On Saturday July 2nd Romsey Choral Society and the Waverley Singers performed the well known work ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ by the English composer Sir Edward Elgar. Elgar is celebrated for his Pomp and Circumstance marches at the Last Night of the Proms and for the Enigma Variations, which brought him to public acclaim and acceptance in his forties. Being a self-taught composer and a Roman Catholic, he was treated with some suspicion by Victorian society. Indeed, the text of this oratorio is a poem by Cardinal John Henry Newman which sets out the journey into death and redemption of a sinner; a text not wholly liked by the Anglican establishment at the time.

Nonetheless, it seemed very fitting to sing such a now loved and monumental piece in Romsey Abbey which has seen worship occurring in the building for over 900 years. Richard Pearce ably conducted the combined choirs and orchestra which rehearsed together on the afternoon of the concert. It is hard to rehearse in enough depth in such a compacted time so although the players’ intonation was generally very good the orchestra felt a bit tentative in the quieter opening section until it had found its voice. No insecurity was felt, however, by the tenor Christopher Bowen singing the part of Gerontius. With the opening line of ‘Jesu Maria - I am near to death’ we were immediately transfixed by a voice full of colour, precision and immersion into the words. This is clearly a role he has sung many times before and we benefited from that. The chorus’ attention to detail was also evident with regards to musical articulation and delivering the text with only very occasional slips of clarity. With the requirement to sing over such a large orchestra and occasional additional organ part (ably played by Richard McVeigh the Abbey’s Assistant Director of Music) the chorus did very well overall. Only in the second half in the ‘Demons’ section did one feel greater numbers of singers were required to balance the orchestra but the limitations of the staging prevented this.

Michael Pearce (bass-baritone) sang with a clear middle and lower register and made a convincing role as the Priest sending Gerontius into the other world, which concluded part one of the concert. Like Christopher Bowen, Jessica Gillingwater sang with great clarity and richness in the role of the Angel with both their parts interacting throughout part two of the concert leading to a beautiful ending with the Choir of Angelicals singing ‘Praise to the Holiest, Amen’.

We felt that we had been on an intimate journey from apprehension and remorse to peace and the full audience showed their generous appreciation for what had been a wonderful occasion. Congratulations should go to Richard Pearce not only for the standard of performance but for the choice of a work that was so fitting for the gorgeous acoustic of the Abbey.

Contributed by Martin Seymour, director of music at Romsey Abbey

Message from the editor

Thank you for reading this story. We really appreciate your support.

Please help us to continue bringing you all the trusted news from your area by sharing this story or by following our Facebook page.