Booming Chorus almost put Haydn's The Creation in jeopardy

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 May, 2015, 6:49am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 May, 2015, 12:55pm

The Creation
Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus
May 22
Cultural Centre concert hall

A mighty chorus flexed its muscles so much in a performance of one of the most endearing choral works that it put balance and finesse in jeopardy.

Playing out on stage was a rarely performed English version of Joseph Haydn's The Creation in three parts, which the 120-strong chorus of the Philharmonic Orchestra delivered alongside its downsized orchestral force.

The choral group, recruited just two years ago, comprised some 80 female singers and just 40 men - much larger than a standard chorus of 60 to 70 members for a work in the classical period.

It was clearly at home with the English text based on the Book of Genesis, displaying zeal and at times an excess of power that was effective in passages of praise, such as Hallelujah in Part 2.

But the three guest soloists were no match for the collective vocal force and got drowned out, most evidently in The Lord is Great in His Might, also in Part 2.

More problematic in balance was the fortepiano playing the continuo throughout the work. Being a pre-modern piano, its soft sound quality was virtually inaudible even in solo recitative passages with the narrator, not to mention playing amid the modern instruments.

Little wonder that most commercial recordings turn to the harpsichord, which produces a brighter sound.

The mute continuo was especially evident in its duet with the solo clarinet during an aria by the archangel Gabriel in the opening of Part 2. The basso continuo line, partnering the solo cello in Adam's recitative in Part 3, was weak and could not sustain itself.

Nevertheless, the exquisite singing of the three soloists and the brilliant playing of the small but solid orchestra saved the day.

Bass-baritone Andrew Foster-Williams as archangel Raphael and Adam was great, dramatically delivering the famous lines about various animals, from cattle to worms, upon creation.

Soprano Sara Macliver sang with sensitivity as well as versatility in those extensive lines as Gabriel and then as Eve. The Adam and Eve duets in Part 3 were smilingly musical, accompanied by the superb woodwinds.

Tenor Toby Spence, with his golden voice, was effortless as archangel Uriel, reminiscent of the great Peter Schreier.

Despite its fewer numbers including the absence of at least five section principals, the orchestra performed in top form. Under the baton of Brett Weymark, the punchy orchestral delivery was unmistakably modern. The excitement was best told by the conductor's baton, which flew off his hand at one point. The stick landed in the audience, hurting no one, and the divine act went on uninterrupted.