It might seem churlish to give anything less than a full-star rating to this much-anticipated event, but in fact there were several disappointments in this impressively lined-up account of Elgar's searing masterpiece.
The Dream of Gerontius is a work which lives and breathes through its orchestral fabric, and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra did its textures and timbres proud. What a difference various conductors make: I have heard this august orchestra sound dire under certain carvers, but Simon Rattle here encouraged the players to breathe life into this amazing score, realising that there are not just Wagnerian undercurrents to tickle their fancy but also so many other genuine depths of utterance. Particular praise to the lower strings for authority and presence.
Orchestrally this was a triumph, and almost so chorally, too. The fresh voices of the BBC Proms Youth Choir under the expert tutelage of Simon Halsey sounded wonderfully innocent as Angelicals, but were too many, and perhaps too unspoilt, to spit out the venom of the Demons' Chorus with any harsh snarlings in the perfectly-judged acoustic of Symphony Hall. Things might be better in the vast reaches of the Royal Albert Hall when this performance is repeated at the BBC Proms on Friday.
Indeed, all the problems arose vocally, with the exception of Roderick Williams, who was predictably commanding as Gerontius' deathbed priest and who gratifyingly (and perhaps surprisingly) darkened his tone for the stentorian Angel of the Agony.
As Gerontius, Toby Spence sang appealingly, but lacked the operatic heft for the impassioned "Sanctus fortis", evoking yearnings for Heddle Nash or Richard Lewis at this crucial moment.
At the other swing of the balances, Magdalena Kozena was just so operatic in her gestures, almost Madam Butterfly-like, that we found difficulty in perceiving her as the disembodied Angel, guardian of Gerontius' soul as he is cleansed through Purgatory. We were already yearning for the quiet compassionate dignity of Janet Baker, and when Kozena took the lower option in the final, climactic "Alleluia", that just about clinched it.