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Rosemary Joshua [Photo by Ruth Crafer]
19 Jul 2009

Prom 2 — Haydn: The Creation

‘I never left a theatre more contented, and all night I dreamed of The Creation of the world.’ — the view of one of those at the first performance of The Creation in 1799.

Prom 2 — Haydn: The Creation

Rosemary Joshua (Gabriel), Mark Padmore (Uriel), Neal Davies (Raphael), Pater Harvey (Adam), Sophie Bevan (Eve), Chetham's Chamber Choir, Members of Wrocław Philharmonic Choir, Gabrieli Consort & Players. Paul McCreesh (cond.). Concert performance, Royal Albert Hall, London, 18 July 2009.

Above: Rosemary Joshua [Photo by Ruth Crafer]


Evidently one shared by the Proms audience last night, although if we dream of the creation of the world it’s probably more likely to be in the more usually heard German edition — given Paul McCreesh’s advocacy of his own revised version it seems churlish to voice this, but there’s something about, say, ‘Mit Würd und Hoheit angetan’ which ‘In native worth and honour clad’ just doesn’t have.

What this performance did have, was stirring singing from the massed forces of Chetham’s Chamber Choir, members of the Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir, and the Gabrieli Consort, and mostly stellar playing from the Gabrieli Players, with especially strong contributions from Katy Bircher’s flute and the Fortepiano of Benjamin Bayl. McCreesh has a dynamic view of the piece: it’s all dappled shade followed by blazing light, with tremendous climaxes at the exalted, Handelian closing choruses, ‘Achieved is the glorious work’ being especially powerful. He handles the intimacy of the solo parts well too, giving space to shape the phrases and savour the language.

If I have doubts about this evening, they lie with the singers: far be it from me to argue with how solo passages are managed, but it did seem odd to me that poor old Adam and Eve had to sit there for two thirds of the time before they were created — aren’t those parts usually sung by the Gabriel and Raphael? As for their singing, of course it is always lovely to hear Peter Harvey’s refined bass, and Sophie Bevan has been delighting me for years ever since I heard her RCM debut: their duet ‘With thee is every joy enhanced’ was very engaging.

Rosemary Joshua was the vocal star of course, her genuine Handelian soprano making light work of the onomatopoeic trills of ‘On mighty pens uplifted soars’ and providing exactly the right sense of sparkling lightness at ‘The glorious heav’nly hierarchy.’ Beside her, Neal Davies’ workmanlike Raphael and Mark Padmore’s worthy Uriel tended to seem rather pedestrian, although Padmore as always did his best to sound suitably heroic at ‘In native worth and honour clad.’

The Creation has always seemed to be the poor relation to Handel’s oratorios, but a performance such as this one makes not only a powerful case for its greatness, but shows how accurate Hugo Wolf was when he described Haydn’s music as ‘Sheer nature, artlessness, perception and sensitivity!’

Melanie Eskenazi

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