Nicholas O'Neill, Chorus Master and Composer in Residence
The performance of ‘Dream of Gerontius’ in Westminster Cathedral in November 2019 will surely remain as one of the high water marks of the Parliament Choir's near 20-year existence. Twelve months or so since the first rehearsal on the work we were joined by friends from various choirs, Southbank Sinfonia, and a stellar line up of soloists to perform Elgar's monumental work under the direction of our Music Director Simon Over. Simon has long held a desire to tackle this piece, so important to him and to the composer, so this represented the culmination of many years of planning and an ambitious aim.
From the mysterious opening of the overture, played to a hushed but packed Cathedral, it was clear that the audience were ready to commit emotionally to the work, and the tones of the orchestra – gossamer-thin at times, imposing at others – brought to life the textures of Elgar's writing and the purposes of his various themes. The first choir entry set the scene for what was to come, being confident yet dynamically shaded to reflect the composer's desires, and this attention to detail continued throughout even at the ends of the two parts with their quiet and delicate writing, so difficult to sustain. Elgar's “great blaze” of ‘Praise To The Holiest’, was confidently delivered in some of the most difficult writing that the Parliament Choir has yet encountered, and the unaccompanied three-part writing of ‘Lord, Thou has been our refuge’ was in time and in tune, a rare thing, and certainly more than the first performance of this work ever achieved.
If I hesitate to describe the performance of ‘Gerontius’ as the Parliament Choir's finest hour, it is only because there have been so many fine hours in the Choir's past that have continually raised the standard of what we produced and which have proved to us that we can tackle large-scale repertoire that may seem impossibly daunting upon first acquaintance. This is the second of Elgar's large choral works that we have performed, and we have also taken on Britten's ‘War Requiem’ , but maybe this, in terms of confidence, preparation and delivery, was the best of all, although we always aspire to do better.