Monday, 08 August 2022

Soloists excited about Dream roles

THREE internationally acclaimed soloists are lined up to sing the key roles in Henley Choral Society’s

THREE internationally acclaimed soloists are lined up to sing the key roles in Henley Choral Society’s forthcoming performance of Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius.

A full-scale production of the work, which dates from 1900, the concert on Saturday, March 5, will see tenor Joshua Ellicott, bass Matthew Brook and mezzo-soprano Yvonne Howard join forces with around 200 other musicians at the Concert Hall, Reading.

Those performing alongside Henley Choral Society members on the night will include the 30-strong Lea Singers from Harpenden, who will sing the semi-chorus, and a full professional symphony orchestra.

The concert promises to be the society’s most ambitious production yet and the swansong for their present musical director, the talented Benjamin Goodson, who was recently appointed director of chapel music at Somerville College, Oxford.

Under his direction, members have been rehearsing the piece since September — a process that included a one-day workshop at Henley’s Holy Trinity Church at the end of January.

There is little doubt the soloists are relishing the prospect of singing Elgar’s great work, which was inspired by an 1865 poem by Cardinal Newman.

Joshua Ellicott, hailed as “the magnificent tenor” by Austrian newspaper the Wiener Zeitung, will play the title role.

He said: “The tenor role of Gerontius is right up there with the great operatic roles — and certainly one to be well prepared for. I’m really looking forward to the performance with Henley Choral Society, having performed in a Bach St John Passion with them last year, and I’m sure they’ll also be exercising their vocal equipment in preparation!”

Matthew Brook is regarded as one of the country’s leading bass-baritones, having been described by the Observer as turning “everything he sings to gold”.

He said: “It’s a piece I always wanted to sing as a young singer, along with Britten’s War Requiem.

“I used to listen to old recordings as a teenager of both pieces and couldn’t wait until the moment came in my career when I felt I had enough experience and vocal heft required to soar across a large symphony orchestra and chorus. The text the bass gets to sing is moving and powerful and Elgar’s setting is dramatic and uplifting — one of the 20th century’s all-time greats. I’m really looking forward to singing this old friend with the Henley Choral Society.”

Yvonne Howard, who plays the Angel, is regarded as one of the finest singing actresses this country has produced. She says she enjoys the choral part of the piece so much she almost wishes she were in the choir.

“As a student in Manchester I was a frequent visitor to concerts given by the Hallé Orchestra and one of the first concerts was The Dream of Gerontius with the utterly wonderful Alfreda Hodgson singing the Angel.

“I was overawed and in tears throughout, never imagining that I would or could ever sing it myself.

“I was then lucky enough to be part of the Royal Northern College of Music choir when we gave a performance with Alexander Young as Gerontius, and to be part of that incredible sound was an experience I shall never forget.

“However, as I studied at the time with one of the nation’s finest tenors, David Johnston, well known for his Gerontius, he encouraged me to learn it, and I sang my first Angel — with him — in May 1981. A dream come true in every way.”

Dating from 1900 and generally regarded as Elgar’s finest choral composition, The Dream of Gerontius falls into two parts and runs for around an hour and a half in total. Tickets have been selling well, and with just over a week to go until the concert Henley Choral Society chair Susan Edwards had some advice for any music fans who might not yet have bought theirs.

“This has proved to be a popular concert and rightly so,” she said. “It’s the last chance to see Ben working with the Henley Choral Society and the line-up of soloists is incredible.

“There are just few tickets left and I would urge anyone who is thinking of going to buy theirs as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.”

Tickets for the concert are priced £18 and can be booked by calling Jan French on (01491) 572795.

They are also available over the counter from Gorvett & Stone, 21 Duke Street, Henley.

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