Posts Tagged ‘Elgar’

Review of the concert of Elgar in Ely Cathedral on Saturday 26th October 2019

October 27, 2019

If you were told that the concert you were about to attend had a programme of only one composer, you would be worried that after the first few pieces you would expect to be craving for something different. However, in the concert on Saturday the programme of works by Elgar and no other composer contained such varieties of style, expression and sound that the audience was easily held transfixed throughout the performance.

Works included ‘The Wand of Youth Suite No. 1’, ‘Coronation March’, ’Pomp and Circumstances Marches nos.3 and 5 and Symphony No.1.  The Cambridge Student Symphony Orchestra directed by Simon Armitage really brought the composer’s works alive. At times you could feel a gentle, warm sun on your face in the quintessentially, verdant English countryside.  There were moments when one felt convinced that the composer himself was there, especially when the orchestra revelled confidently in Elgar’s powerful expansive sound. Moods varied significantly from cheerfulness and jauntiness to grandeur or a sense of foreboding as in the first symphony which heralded the Second World War.

Symphony no.1 was indeed the peak of this wonderful concert. In this work particularly, the members of the orchestra demonstrated how they and Elgar could move easily from mood extremes: from sadness, to sinister undercurrents or sheer unadulterated joy. They showed too the capacity to explore the most beautiful and powerful aspects of orchestration in all sections: strings, woodwind, brass and percussion.

This was indeed a splendid event.

It was pleasing to see the famous composer and musician Dr Arthur Wills with his son Colin In the audience. Simon Armitage and Graham Austin and were able to reminisce in the interval for Simon featured in the Ely Arts Festival in the 1980s when Graham was the chair.

Review of Elgar’s ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ in Ely Cathedral on 12th November 2016

November 13, 2016

Elgar’s ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ in Ely Cathedral on Saturday was magnificent. Under the baton of Mark Williams, choirs from Jesus, Clare, Gonville and Caius, and Selwyn colleges, Cambridge University Chamber Choir, choristers of Jesus College and Girls’ Choirs of St. Catharine’s College and Ely Cathedral and Britten Sinfonia gave a most moving performance.

Every nuance of Elgar’s style was explored. The anguish and wide-ranging emotions of a dying man’s soul were beautifully and effectively revealed, the choirs harmonizing with a full rich tone, creating well-balanced, complex textures in the more intense sections. The singers filled the cathedral with demonic fire, strong Parry-like angelic praise, or gentle serenity as the mood of the work changed.

The soloists: Ben Johnson (tenor), Allison Cook (mezzo soprano) and Duncan Ross (bass) were splendid, colouring vital words with drama and characterizing their different roles wonderfully. The single word ‘Alleulia’ was exquisitely expressed by Allison as the Angel, a typical example of her expertise that was equally matched by that of Ben and Duncan. Ben gave an especially credible sonorous performance.

Britten Sinfonia is an excellent orchestra, all sections responding skilfully to create a wonderful effect, moving through a wide range of expressions from dramatic urgency and intensity, poignancy, and despair to sheer joy and serenity. Elgar’s leitmotifs, such as ‘judgement’, ‘fear’, ‘prayer’, ‘sleep’, and ‘miserere’ were seamlessly interwoven in a meaningful way throughout the work from the beginning.

It was no wonder the whole performance had the packed cathedral transfixed.

The next event for the Cambridge Music Festival will feature Philip Higham (cello) in Trinity Chapel on Tuesday 15th November at 8 pm.


Review: Ely Sinfonia playing Elgar in Ely Cathedral on Saturday 29th March 2014.

April 5, 2014

Steve Bingham has reached astounding levels of musicality with Ely Sinfonia. In the concert last night they were positively inspired and brought Elgar’s music alive with almost tangible excitement. While strong patriotism was present, what transfixed us was the sheer joy the musicians exuded as they revelled in Elgar’s sweeping phrases, emotional exuberance, lyrical tenacity and thrilling and colourful orchestration

‘Introduction and Allegro for Strings’ was magnificent, featuring The Cassia String Quartet and refining the music with precision and soul – even in the ‘devilish’ fugue. It was sheer magic.

The ‘Sea pictures’ were sung by the impressive mezzo-soprano Hannah Pedley. Voice and orchestra captured the messages and atmosphere of the poems beautifully.

The evening culminated with one of the most vibrant performances I have heard of the popular ‘Enigma Variations’. Highlights for me included the familiar seventh variation (Troyte) in which they created a fantastic storm, while the well-known ‘Nimrod’, the ninth variation, was particularly dynamic, maintaining its inherent potency with exquisite control.  All the other characters were there in full splendour including the charming Caroline Alice Elgar, the composer’s wife, the bombastic local squire who ‘spoke’ very energetically, the stammering Dora Penny and the accident-prone bulldog.

This was indeed a splendid evening.

The next performance by Ely Sinfonia will be as part of the Ely Festival and they will be presenting Mozart for Midsummer on Friday June 20th in Ely Cathedral Presbytery at 8 pm.


Review of ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ by Elgar performed by Ely Choral Society, Cambridgeshire Choral Society, Ely Consort and the Ely Festival Orchestra in Ely Cathedral on Saturday 31st March 2012.

April 1, 2012

Elgar’s ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ performed by Ely Choral Society, Cambridgeshire Choral Society, and Ely Consort and the Ely Festival Orchestra in Ely Cathedral on Saturday 31st March 2012 was an unforgettable, moving and uplifting experience.

Under the baton of Andrew Parnell, these fine musicians captured the essence of Elgar’s genius.  With carefully shaped and measured precision, the messages of the text were abundantly clear.  Every essence of the journey of the soul of Gerontius and its final release in death was made important and meaningful by these impressive musicians. The audience felt a sense of awe and reverence —most fitting in the inspiring environment of Ely Cathedral.

The combined choir excelled. With a full, wholesome sound, these singers sang with informed assurance, no matter what this momentous score demanded.  Their effects ranged from the solemn prayers of the Assistants and the harsh brutality of the Demons to the ethereal beauty of the Choir of Angelicals. Even in the most interwoven of textures, no opportunity was lost to savour the expressive magnitude, heightened tensions, and profundity.

The orchestra was indeed on equal terms with the singers and these highly skilled instrumentalists balanced perfectly to help create this wonderful, emotional experience that captured the painful anguish of Gerontius’s experiences exactly. In the opening bars it became immediately apparent that we were about to experience something momentous. With both orchestra and choir every utterance was exact but evocative. Tonal richness, effective timing and cohesive, wide-ranging expression were clearly the order of the day.   Jonathan Lilley’s organ playing was also an essential contributor. There was a marked hush at the end of the sections. The listeners had been deeply affected.

The soloists were some of the finest I have heard in Ely Cathedral. Justin Lavender (tenor) was a highly charged Gerontius, his superb voice permeating the words and music with phenomenal emotional intensity. Jeremy White (bass) filled the Cathedral with his powerful voice. The first notes he sang as the Priest revealed him to be a man worthy of the role – one who could fill the Cathedral with astounding tonal control, power and authority. Deborah Miles-Johnson (mezzo-soprano) sang superbly, adding warmth and affection to Elgar’s uplifting music.

This was a most successful evening. There was no doubt why the Cathedral was packed.

Future events by Ely Choral Society include:

Saturday 2nd June 730 p.m. Ely Cathedral Concert Celebrating the Diamond jubilee of HM Queen Elizabeth 11 featuring massed choirs and the East Anglian Chamber Orchestra

Saturday 27th October, 7.30 p.m. Ely Cathedral Autumn concert, including pieces by Haydon, Bruckner and Parnell

Saturday 8th December, St. Mary’s Church, Ely Christmas Concert.

Rosemary Westwell

Review of The Dream of Gerontius performed by the Huntingdonshire Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra and St Ives Choral Society in Ely Cathedral on Saturday 26th June 2010

July 8, 2010

Ely Cathedral was the ideal venue for Hunts Phil and St. Ives Choral Society to perform Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius: an intense and vibrant exploration of the thoughts and process of a dying man. Under the baton of Musical Director Adrian Brown this impressively large group of musicians filled the cathedral with thought-provoking and moving sounds.

Neil Jenkins, once first tenor for the famous King’s Singers when he was a Choral Scholar at King’s College Cambridge, was an excellent choice for the role of the tormented Gerontius. His powerful voice coloured the words with great strength and passion while his diction was impeccable – every word rang clear, every emotional tinge given full value.

Edward Grint, also a previous choral scholar at King’s College Cambridge, gave the priest’s role power and conviction and his pleading tones as the Angel of Agony hinted appropriately the approaching final resolution.    

The choirs produced just the right balanced texture that conveyed the gentle reverence, demonic cynicism, climactic excitement or graceful acceptance that the words of Cardinal Newman’s poem demanded. Moments of Wagnerian super-charged drama were given full measure. The Choir of Angelicals was angelic indeed, sweetening deliciously the gently interwoven harmonies in the first Praise to the Holiest which transformed into a wonderful dramatic climax in its final version. 

Huntingdonshire Philharmonic orchestra established the worthiness of the performance at the outset.  The instrumentalists caught the emotional drive and cohesive magnetism of Elgar’s unusual Wagnerian-like sounds as they flowed continuously in an ever-developing, emotionally-charged manner. There were no parcelled arias and recitatives here. The soothing strings were especially effective at the beginning of Part 2 after the interval and brass, woodwind and flamboyant percussion coloured events magnificently.

Janet Shell was a magnificent Angel, her fine voice rising to the heights of the cathedral vaults, in soothing smoothly-shapely phrases.

This was indeed a momentous occasion.  

Forthcoming events by St Ives Choral Society include:

Annual Family Christmas Concert Saturday 18th December 2010

Handel: Dixit Dominus and Dettingen Te Deum Saturday 5th February 2011

Karl Jenkins Requiem Saturday 14th May 2011

Britten St Nicholas and Purcell Ode for St. Cecelia’s Day 2011

Contact St Ives Choral Society email:

Hunts Phil contact tel: 01487 824081