The Creation – Anonymous English text, after the Book of Genesis, the Psalms and Milton’s Paradise Lost [sung in English]
Rebecca Evans (soprano), Allan Clayton (tenor) & Neal Davies (bass-baritone)
The Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge
Reviewed by: Mark Valencia
Reviewed: 18 February, 2011
Venue: St John's, Smith Square
The performance was a strong one, underpinned by Nethsingha’s joyous tempos and by some refined playing from Britten Sinfonia in quasi-original-practice mode (although Maggie Cole’s discreet fortepiano was the only ‘period’ instrument in its ranks). All three soloists were of the first rank: Allan Clayton was in fervent voice as Uriel, while great Wales was represented by Rebecca Evans and Neal Davies in strongly differentiated guises, first as Gabriel and Raphael, then as Eve and Adam. Evans was guilty of excessive scooping at the start of several phrases; but her tone ravished the ear and her birdsong effect on “And cooing calls the tender dove his mate” was wittily charming. Davies, meanwhile, communicated like a minstrel storyteller throughout his recitatives and arias, and by playing it dead straight on “Cheerful, roaring stands the tawny lion” he had the audience in his pocket.
The evening’s disappointment, such as it was, concerned the quincentennial choir itself. The choral sound had a fresh-toned sparkle, classical without a hint of the oratorio school of chorusing; but the singers’ placement at the very rear of the platform, beyond even the farthest pair of those fine Corinthian columns, prevented their voices from cutting through the orchestral forces, modest though these were. Nethsingha, clearly conscious of the imbalance, had attempted to rectify matters by adding four female supernumeraries to his vocal mix; but this only served to muddy the boys’ exceptional treble character. As “The Creation” is not a particularly chorus-heavy work (making it a questionable choice of repertoire to mark such an important anniversary), when the great choruses do occur they need to resound with bell-like clarity. The heavens should have been refulgent in telling the glory of God; but, in St John’s, although the spirit was manifestly willing, the flesh was that little bit too weak.