Art review: The Creation

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 August, 2013, 9:27am

Hong Kong Sinfonietta
City Hall Concert Hall
Reviewed: August 10

By the time Haydn penned his oratorio The Creation, he was not only one of history's most prolific composers, but also the most famous - and adored - European musician of his day. Acknowledged as a masterpiece at its first performance in 1799, the work is a model of Haydn's hallmark buoyancy, artless imagination and sheer fun.

Following a simple, repetitive structure of recitative-aria-chorus, the work calls less for an intellectual overview than a joyous revelling in the work's kaleidoscopic storyboard.

Haydn must have grinned from ear to ear as he depicted the Big Bang chaos before plunging into the recreation of all and sundry: lion, tiger, stag, horse, cattle, sheep, insects and worms each get a mention (in just three minutes).

The 75-strong SingFest 2013 Youth Chorus provided the choral punctuations that sign off on each of the seven days of God's work. Fresh, vigorous and rock-solid, they did their chorus masters Patrick Chiu and Felix Shuen proud, sounding taut in ensemble, balanced in tone and confident in attack - their German pronunciation didn't let them down, either. Their performance will hopefully attract more audiences to see choral shows.

If there were two places where the chorus particularly excelled, it was the conclusions to Parts One and Three of the work. They performed from memory, eyes hooked on both the conductor Helmuth Rilling and, by default, the auditorium. Such eye contact with the audience came only occasionally from soloists Alex Tam Tin-lok (tenor) and Caleb Woo (bass), who nonetheless gave vocally deft performances, singing with uniform clarity throughout their range.

Soprano soloist Yuki Ip impressed not only by eyeballing us from start to finish, but also by her long lines and vocal acrobatics. Joining Woo for the duet as Adam and Eve to round off the work, their connection in Doch Ohne Dich (But Without Thee) set a wonderful seal on the evening.

The Hong Kong Sinfonietta provided excellent support for the action, often taking part in the descriptive narrative by discreetly emulating whales, "heavy beasts" and a whole menagerie of other allusions. The range of colours explored by the string section proved a valuable asset, as did the clarity of inner lines that ensured all of Haydn's masterful details were observed.

Pulling all this together and achieving a tremendous narrative flow was Rilling, the veteran expert on German choral music. Slightly bent at the waist and more than four times the average age of the chorus members, he wielded an undemonstrative baton with a huge sense of authority.

Sam Olluver