Alan Tongue

Gerontius in Budapest continued

This wasn't Alan Tongue's first visit to Budapest. For a long time in the Hungarian music world he has been known as the 'ambassador' of English music. Since he began this work in 1993, the members of the BM Duna Orchestra have been especially grateful for his regular contributions to the 'English evenings' (Elgar, Holst, Vaughan Williams, Britten, etc) and for giving audiences these musical treats, of which many traditional promoters are unaware. So that's how The Dream of Gerontius was performed - in partnership with his good friends, the Duna Orchestra.

It was an unforgettable experience. Despite the fact that this piece is virtually unknown in Hungary, the church was packed. The essence of the piece and its deeper meanings were clearly shown by Alan and it is thanks to his one-week expert training that the performance worked so magically. It was marvellous that the soloists, choir and orchestra could relate to this piece so quickly, especially as it was previously unknown to them. They performed it with such spirit and enthusiasm that the audience was quite carried away. It greatly helped in the understanding of the piece that the translation of the script was available to the audience. We appreciate Alan Tongue's wide knowledge of this piece and his commitment to popularising Elgar's works. We can truly say that the performances of The Dream of Gerontius were the climax of the English Evenings.

Tardy Laszlo, Director of Music at the Matyas Templom, wrote this account, which he entitled 'The Return of the Boomerang. 'At the end of the last century a magnificent artist arrived in the UK from Hungary: Hans Richter, the son of Antal Richter, who was church music director at the cathedral of Gyor, in western Hungary. Richter espoused Elgar's works and the two artists became close friends. Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius, first conducted by Richter, arrived in Hungary a hundred years later, when it was performed in Budapest. The Danube Symphony Orchestra, the State Choir of Hungary, the Oratorio Choir of Budapest and soloists Timothy Bentch (Gerontius), Marta Lukin (Angel) and Istvan Rácz (Priest and Angel of the Agony) worked hard during the rehearsals with the conductor Alan Tongue, from Cambridge. The performance took place in the Parish Church at Bakats Square in Ferencvaros, where a wonderful music festival is held every summer. Right at the beginning of the concert, we could recognise that it would be a magnificent musical event. The audience, who filled the church completely, were given the Hungarian translation of the words by Cardinal Newman. Everybody was full of expectation. The first sounds of the orchestral introduction revealed an unknown musical greatness: a composition which is deeply English, full of power and honesty, gentle and varied. We could feel that music take us to the depths of the human soul. The conductor Alan Tongue was able to make a magnificent balance between the large orchestra and the double choir on the one hand, and the soloists on the other. Not only the dramatic parts fascinated the listeners, but the fine expression of the transformation of Gerontius and the beautifully formed dialogues between his soul and the angel. The big applause at the end of the concert was a great honour not only to the composer, soloists, choir and orchestra, but for the magnificent work done by the conductor Alan Tongue.’

Two performances: 23 and 26 June 1999

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