If Gerontius died today, it would probably be at a hospital with no Cardinal Newman to record his passing and no Sir Edward Elgar to create his beautiful dream of a masterpiece. And, one supposes too, there’d be no Daniel Barenboim to bring the work to Germany so powerfully as he does here, details and quibbles to follow. We don’t immortalize last words and thoughts the way we used to.
The saving grace of “music for children,” I find, is that it is never really composed for children, but about them — or more usually about the part of us which traffics in irony, yet yearns to remain simple and pure. There are few lullabies effective for sleep which would long engage an adult mind, so I know Sasha Cooke will forgive me for saying that her stunningly effective rendition of Britten’s Charm of Lullabies last Tuesday at Music at Menlo, outwitted Morpheus.
It was a “playful” afternoon, with so much young talent to admire that the occasional boisterous interpretation seemed completely in line with the mood of the day. Celebrating the spirit in beautiful sounds was as fitting a ceremony as I could imagine on such a stunning Easter Sunday. The presence of performing genius, such as that of Melvin Chen or Dawn Upshaw, made the day even more celebratory. Leon Botstein’s direction allowed these young performers to shine and impress both as individuals performers – since the three pieces sported many solo passages – and, as well, as a polished, cohesive ensemble.