Certain works blur  the boundaries between opera and oratorio, particularly when freighted with echoes of Wagner and Strauss.

Elgar never completed an opera but his Gerontius is powerfully operatic in its dramatic timing and establishment of atmosphere, particularly as performed this evening by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra with the Brighton Festival Chorus.

The Prelude Overture, a rolling stream of melodic ideas punctuated by climactic crescendi, demonstrated the cohesion and control of the orchestra to perfection.

Conductor Edward Gardner, of operatic background, seemed connected to every musician and every chorister on stage. He led tenor Robert Murray as Gerontius, an old man on point of death, to putting every ounce of feeling into an emotionally charged performance of stunning intensity.   

The majestic basso of Matthew Rose, priest and angel of the agony, sternly upheld a moral authority in  contrast to the subtle shading of mezzo angel Alice Coote who has the last word in gentle compassion. 

The Festival Chorus under James Morgan, singing without scores, managed huge sounds and whispered echoes with consummate skill. England may not think itself a Christian country, but the packed and rapturous audience in the Dome were responding to something spiritual beyond mortal understanding