Leeds Town Hall, Saturday 15th February 2014:
The late Mary Wilson of Ilkley sang in the soprano section of Leeds Philharmonic Chorus for an astonishing 52 years before going on to serve as President of the Friends of this famous Leeds choir. It is not difficult to believe that Mary would have been absolutely delighted with last Saturday’s performance of Elgar’s choral masterpiece dedicated to her memory.
Mary’s beloved ‘Phil’ was joined on stage by Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus, St Peter’s Singers and Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Hill. The Massed voices and orchestra amounted to some 350 performers; what an awesome sound they created when Hill unleashed his vast forces for those monumental climaxes. The Demons’ Chorus, backed by the BSO’s snarling brass and sniping woodwind, lacked nothing in its unanimity of attack and spine-tingling ferocity. The effect of Praise to the Holiest in the Height, bolstered by the mighty Town Hall organ played by Darius Battiwalla, could be likened to a dazzling firework display that bathed this ornate auditorium in an exultant blaze of light. But it was in the quieter sections, such as the opening Kyrie eleison, that one could really marvel at the expert blending of voices and the exquisite shading of dynamics achieved by the Phil’s Music Director.
Gerontius was gloriously sung by the tenor Andrew Staples, stepping in at short notice for an indisposed Andrew Kennedy. Staples’ beautifully sustained line, his phrasing and projection of the text infused the voice with anguish and resignation. Mezzo soprano Jennifer Johnston, radiant and consoling as the Angel, produced a ravishing spectrum of tone colour culminating in her deeply-felt and poignant farewell. Baritone Gareth John sung the role of the Priest with bright-toned evangelical fervour. John subtly darkened his voice as the Angel of the Agony cushioned by the gleaming brass, celestial harps and velvety strings of the Bournemouth Orchestra. The transcendent quality of this superlative performance of the Dream of Gerontius is destined to linger in the memory.