Creation March 2019

Creation ReviewHaydn's choral masterpiece, Creation, has reached a new level of popularity in Exeter this year, with three performances scheduled by local choirs.  Amongst them, the Exeter Philharmonic Choir selected the work for its annual concert in support of the Lord Mayor's charity, this year SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity. 

Held in Exeter Cathedral on a wet evening on Saturday 16 March, the occasion attracted a good-sized audience amongst whose members it was cheering to see the three immediate past conductors of the EPC returning to support the Choir under its current director, Howard Ionascu.

The Creationbegins with one of the most challenging parts of the work. Haydn's masterful, extended depiction for orchestra only of chaos moves through stark chords and shifting harmonies to, at the conclusion, the choir's dramatic outburst on the words, 'and there was light'.  What an advantage, then, to have as distinguished an orchestra as the London Mozart Players, in good numbers too, to take us so effectively through this primeval landscape!  Thereafter the orchestra provided a firm, finely-played foundation for both soloists and chorus while emphasising the colourful, almost Romantic orchestration that Haydn applied to many sections of the work, from sunrise to birdsong.

If I started with the orchestra in this review, it was only because of the importance of its role from the start of the oratorio.   A significant challenge of the Cathedral is its acoustic which can disturb the balance between choir and orchestra, though perhaps not as problematic in this regard as the work's first public (non-aristocratic) performance in 1799 at the Imperial Burgtheater in Vienna when an orchestra of some 120 instrumentalists (including triple woodwind parts) accompanied an all-male choir of 60 members!  Back in Exeter and adopting lively tempi throughout, Howard Ionascu ensured that neither choir or orchestra was unnecessarily dominant, with the EPC in confident, accurate voice in all the celebratory, affirmative choruses with which Haydn ends the six days of creation and the work's finale.  It was a pleasure to see and hear the Choir's enjoyment (and attentiveness!) in response to its conductor.

A significant contribution to the evening's success was provided by the fine, well-balanced trio of soloists, Kirsty Hopkins (soprano), Mark Dobell (tenor) and James Gower (bass), suitably authoritative as the three archangels in describing the six stages of creation. The contrasts in Haydn's score were well and clearly projected, from the lilt of Gabriel's aria 'With verdure clad', through the humour accorded by Raphael to the tread of heavy beasts ('Now heaven in fullest glory shone') to Uriel's beautiful aria describing the emergence of Man ('In native worth').  Later, in Part III, James Gower and Kirsty Hopkins were well matched as Adam and Eve, bringing a sense of wonder and an engaging innocence to their roles in that happy state ahead of that Fall which Haydn decided not to include in the oratorio.

This was a fresh, lively performance of Creationwhich fully deserved the warm applause of the audience.  It served to emphasise once more the genius of Haydn's oratorio – its colour, contrasts, inventiveness, grandeur and, let's say it, greatness.

David Batty



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