SARGENT conducts Elgar: Cello Concerto, The Dream of Gerontius (1961/62) - PASC525

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SARGENT conducts Elgar: Cello Concerto, The Dream of Gerontius (1961/62) - PASC525

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ELGAR Cello Concerto
ELGAR The Dream of Gerontius

Live concert broadcasts, 1961 & 1962
Total Duration: 1hr 58:32

Jacqueline du Pré, cello
BBC Symphony Orchestra

Richard Lewis, tenor
Marjorie Thomas,
John Cameron,
Hudderfield Choral Society
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

Sir Malcolm Sargent, conductor

This set contains the following albums:

Jacqueline du Pré's 1962 Proms Debut
Previously unissued Elgar Cello Concerto Performance

Elgar’s Cello Concerto was the composer’s last substantial piece. Written in 1919, in the aftermath of the first world war, the piece is often regarded by critics as contemplative and reflective of Britain emerging from a period of terrible sacrifice. Unlike many of Elgar’s previous compositions the cello concerto was not an immediate success, and while it did not languish in complete obscurity (several recordings were made, including two by Elgar), it failed to become part of the mainstream concert repertoire. The person most responsible for changing that was Jacqueline du Pré. A musical prodigy, she made her recital debut in 1961 aged just 16, and chose the Elgar Cello Concerto for her full orchestral debut at the Royal Festival Hall in March 1962.

The critical reception of her concert debut was universally positive and she performed the same work with Adrian Boult at the Chester Festival in June, before making her proms debut under Malcolm Sargent in August. Clearly du Pré’s reputation had preceded her as the concert was a sell-out, something the Times thought was remarkable since a programme consisting entirely of modern English music was usually regarded ‘as an invitation to bankruptcy.’ Accepting that Du Pre was evidently a ‘remarkable interpreter’ what really struck the critics was that despite being only 17 ‘her attitude to Elgar’s concerto was that of a thinking adult and not of an intuitively musical child.’ In particular her fresh approach meant that the more self-reflective sections were ‘free from all the unappetizing self-indulgence that can be the failing of the piece.’

It is no exaggeration to say that du Pré is largely responsible for restoring Elgar’s Cello Concerto to the mainstream concert programme. Her recording with John Barbirolli for EMI in 1965 remains one of the definitive interpretations after more than 50 years, and she continued to perform the piece regularly, including returning to the proms in 1963, 1964 and 1965.

Unlike the Cello Concerto, The Dream of Gerontius was an immediate success. Based on the poem by John Henry Newman, the work premiered in Birmingham in 1900 and within a few years had been performed in Germany, Austria, France, and the USA. The deeply religious and metaphysical work, reflecting Elgar’s own catholic faith, captures the complexity of human existence and its smallness before God. The work depicts the death of Gerontius and his soul’s journey to judgement, and is scored for three soloists and chorus. While the music for the soloists is truly beautiful, it is perhaps the innovative and memorable writing for the chorus that has assured The Dream of Gerontius pride of place amongst English choral works. The Dream has remained consistently popular with both concertgoers and the recording industry since it was written. Malcolm Sargent made the first complete recording in 1945 (Pristine PACO009) using the same forces as appear in this release, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and the Huddersfield Choral Society, and many others have followed since.

Malcolm Sargent was one of the best-known English conductors in the twentieth century. Although he led the BBC Symphony Orchestra in the early 1950s, his principal fame comes from his stewardship of the proms between 1948 and his death in 1967. Despite not reaching the critical acclaim that was afforded to Thomas Beecham or Adrian Boult, Sargent’s ability to connect with the public was evident. He performed and recorded numerous operettas by Gilbert and Sullivan, and he was a particular champion of Elgar’s choral works, especially The Dream of Gerontius which he performed regularly.

The Huddersfield Choral Society is an excellent example of the English choral tradition taking root in a non-traditional setting. While the great cathedral cities and the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge are perhaps the leading exponents of this uniquely English form of music, amateur choral societies in provincial towns have proved themselves more than a match for their illustrious counterparts. For one thing they are much larger than their chapel-bound equivalents, often numbering over a hundred singers. This makes them ideal for the larger choral works such Handel’s Messiah, Orff’s Carmina Burana, and the Bach Passions. The Huddersfield Choral Society, founded in 1836, has consistently been one of the best of its kind, and was a favourite collaborator for Malcolm Sargent.

The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, founded in 1840, ranks with the CBSO, the Halle, and the Bournemouth Symphony as one of the UK’s best provincial orchestras. Malcolm Sargent was principal conductor between 1942 and 1948, and evidently maintained a healthy relationship with the orchestra during the 1950s and 1960s.

Sargent’s thee soloists in The Dream of Gerontius were just as experienced as he was in performing this work. Sargent’s association with welsh tenor Richard Lewis dated back to the 1940s and the two formed a lasting partnership that included many commercial recordings. Lewis had a beautiful lyrical voice as well as expert musicianship that meant he became a firm favourite with contemporary composers and conductors alike. He was a notable Peter Grimes and Captain Vere for Benjamin Britten and premiered works by Walton (Troilus and Cressida), Tippett ( Midsummer Marriage), and Schoenberg (Moses and Aaron) at Covent Garden. Such was his rare versatility that he could be heard just as frequently in a Mozart opera, a Handel oratorio, the Verdi Requiem , or a lieder recital. Lewis recorded the role of Gerontius twice: in mono under Sargent in 1954 and in stereo under Barbirolli in 1964. This latter recording is widely regarded as the finest commercial recording of the work.

Mezzo Marjorie Thomas also had a long association with Sargent, appearing in several of his G&S recordings and was a regular soloist in his oratorio performances. The part of the Angel in The Dream of Gerontius was a particular speciality and this recording preserves her serene account of the role in a live performance. Australian baritone John Cameron sings the role of the priest and the Angel of the Agony, as he had done on many previous occasions. On stage he was perhaps most comfortable in contemporary opera but, like Lewis, he was also perfectly able to sing the more traditional repertoire.

These three soloists had performed Gerontius many times together, and this recording captures some very experienced musicians in interpretations that had been honed over decades.

CD One

ELGAR  Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85
1. 1st Mvt. - Adagio  (7:08)
2. 2nd Mvt. - Allegro molto  (4:30)
3. 3rd Mvt. - Adagio  (4:38)
4. 4th Mvt. - Allegro  (11:07)

Jacqueline du Pré
BBC Symphony Orchestra

ELGAR  The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38
5. Part 1 - Prelude  (9:02)
6. Jesu, Maria - I am near to death  (5:40)
7. Rouse thee, my fainting soul  (3:30)
8. Sanctus fortis, Sanctus Deus  (9:50)
9. Proficiscere, anima Christiana  (6:42)

CD Two

1. Part 2 - I went to sleep  (8:51)
2. It is a member of that family  (5:24)
3. But hark! upon my sense comes a fierce hubbub  (5:09)
4. I see not those false spirits  (7:36)
5. But hark! a grand mysterious harmony  (8:31)
6. Thy judgement now is near  (6:53)
7. I go before my Judge  (6:10)
8. Softly and gently, dearly-ransomed soul  (7:54)

Richard Lewis, tenor
Marjorie Thomas, mezzo
John Cameron, baritone

Hudderfield Choral Society
Herbert Bardgett, chorus master
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

Sir Malcolm Sargent, conductor

XR remastering by Andrew Rose
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Sir Malcolm Sargent

Elgar Cello Concerto
Live BBC Proms broadcast, Royal Albert Hall, London
14 August, 1962

Elgar The Dream of Gerontius
A BBC Transcription Service recording of a live broadcast from Huddersfield Town Tall
24 November, 1961

Total duration:  1hr 58:32