The Dream of Gerontius

We went to a musical event at the Dome on Sunday night.  Until we went I didn’t even know Elgar wrote it, so it was a very new experience.  98 members of the Brighton Festival Choir sat in five or six rows behind and high above the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.  The orchestra was big too, the rows or blowing instruments (5 french horns, 3 trumpets or cornets, 3  trombones, an umpaphone (whatever), 3 clarinets, 2 bassoons and a big bugger (contra-bassoon?) were easy to see and count, but the foreground sea of scraping instruments were too cluttered to count.  More violins than double basses though.

It is possible that its not all about counting, but if you pay £22 for less than 2 hours of entertainment you need a way to judge value.  Person-hours seems a reasonable measure.  But not always – the guy who sat still through almost the whole concert earned his share when he stood, raised two giant cymbals, and brought them crashing together at just the right place, very close to the end.

We also had 2 harps, a pair of kettle drums, or are they tympani?, a snare drum and cymbals and one other guy at the back on the right who must have had a function, but I couldn’t see an instrument, nor did I see him move.

I tried to take in two glasses of wine, but the lady at the door said no.  She said they’d be safe with her, as she didn’t like red wine.  Early in the piece Gerontius sings “use well the interval”, so we did, nipping out quickly to retrieve two large glasses of tempranillo.

The second half starts with a slow and swelling sea of strings, but they had to quieten down when one of the three singers beside the conductor stood to sing a bit.  The singing rather spoilt the music, but that was not the case with the chorus, they could belt it out with the best of the tympani, trombones and french horns.

On balance the music overcame the dull Christian singing, which was hard to understand anyway, and was all about GOD, suffering and punishment.  Loads of cheering from the audience at the end, and lots of grinning musicians looking back at us.

CBSO symphony orchestra

This pic is not of our night, but from the Orchestra’s webpage.

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