Every time I go to Roy Thomson Hall, as I did last night to see the TSO perform Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, I have to recalibrate for the acoustic. It’s just much quieter than the Four Season’s Centre and, indeed, many other venues. This has the advantage that coughing is largely inaudible but also that even a large orchestra playing full bore doesn’t exactly blow one’s socks off. So, perhaps it wasn’t a surprise that I was more struck by the meditative aspects of this score than its moments of high drama such as the chorus of demons. I’m pretty sure this was just the acoustic because conductor Peter Oundjian was certainly going for maximum effect in those sections.
But Gerontius isn’t really about the orchestra I think. It’s about the chorus and the soloists and, above all, the long and difficult tenor role of Gerontius/Soul of Gerontius sung last night by Stuart Skelton. Hearing Skelton live has been on my wish list for a while now and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a big sing, especially the first half where the tenor is up most of the time, but Skelton held his own to the end. He has the heft to stand up to the big orchestra but can also float lovely high notes. It’s easy to see why he has become a top choice for the title role in Peter Grimes.
The other big role is the Angel, sung by mezzo Catharine Wyn-Rogers with sensitivity and attention to the (admittedly rather weird) text. The soloist team was completed by bass-baritone John Relyea who sang the dyual role of the Priest and the Angel of the Agony. Basically, he has two short passages in which he has to sound Awesome. And he did, singing with great directness and power. The chorus, the Amadeus Choir and Elmer Iseler Singers impersonate a number of human and non-human forms but mostly have to sound ethereally beautiful, which they did, but they were also capable of a rawer sound for the chorus of demons.
All around it was a satisfying evening listening to a great choral classic. Elgar himself conducted the piece at Massey Hall. I think he would have enjoyed last night. There is one further performance on November 1st at 8pm.