We’ve dug out some performances available on YouTube that you may wish to watch.
Simon Rattle and The Vienna Philharmonic
From the 2015 Proms season a performance featuring Simon Rattle’s conducting the Vienna Philharmonic, with Magdalena Kožená, Toby Spence, Roderick Williams, and the BBC Proms Youth Choir.
Fiona Maddocks wrote in her Guardian review:
Set to a text by the Catholic convert Cardinal John Henry Newman, Gerontiuscharts the journey of a soul from sickbed to eternal glory. This meditation on death has rich, complicated and layered string writing, majestic brass, uplifting and fiendishly difficult choruses and an ecstatic version of the hymn “Praise to the holiest in the height”. Beloved of choral societies – some audience members turned up carrying their own vocal parts – the work attracts a particular kind of reverence. Janet Baker remains for many, and with reason, the ideal mezzo to sing the Angel. It’s as if the incense-heavy text has to be neutralised with a comparable severity and beauty of performance style which she so brilliantly provided.
Magdalena Kožená, with her long, flaming-red hair and angelic white, bell-sleeved gown, took a more pre-Raphaelite approach – think of Rossetti’s Beata Beatrix, not so far from Newman’s Dante-inspired world – which will not have pleased all, though Elgar might have found it entirely fitting. Just as some talk with their hands so Kožená moves her arms when she sings, which is not the same as emoting or acting. Occasionally she was in danger of being covered by the orchestra, but her voice has an appealing burnished quality and the Vienna players produced such a glowing, resplendent sound it hardly mattered.
Rattle’s tempi always felt right, the shaping of each phrase natural and unforced.Toby Spence, a tenor of unbridled lyricism and boldness, made the most of Gerontius’s urgent Sanctus fortis, and, after the climactic brass outburst, found anxious release in the final “Take me away, and in the lowest deep/ There let me be”. Roderick Williams was properly exalted and golden-toned as the Angel of the Agony. The stars were the BBC Proms Youth Choir – some 400 singers aged 13-25, trained by Simon Halsey and made up of seven youth choruses from across the UK (CBSO Youth Chorus, Birmingham University Voices, Ulster, the Hallé, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, and Quay Voices). They are singing it today in Lucerne. Their lives will have been changed by this event. So were ours.