City of London Festival – Haydn’s The Creation at St Paul’s Cathedral – LSO/Edward Gardner with Sarah Tynan, Robert Murray & Neal Davies

The Creation – Oratorio in three parts to a text compiled from the Book of Genesis, the Psalms, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost [sung in English]

Sarah Tynan (soprano), Robert Murray (tenor) & Neal Davies (bass)

London Symphony Chorus

London Symphony Orchestra
Edward Gardner

Reviewed by: Curtis Rogers

Reviewed: 24 June, 2015
Venue: St Paul’s Cathedral, London

A performance of Haydn's The Creation (conducted by Antonio Salieri) at Old University Hall in Vienna for the composer’s 76th birthday by Balthasar WigandWhatever the drawbacks of performing in so cavernous and reverberant a space as St Paul’s Cathedral, undoubtedly it provided a magnificent setting for the unfolding of Haydn’s musical description of the universe’s genesis. Because of the vastness of that acoustic, this reading necessarily emphasised the work’s grandiose aspects, placing the creation of mankind as a species at the apex of the created order, rather than honing in on any humanistic detail of the particular forbears of the human race according to biblical myth.

That said, Edward Gardner’s interpretation combined awe with as much vivacity as could carry down the nave of the Cathedral, even though it was inevitable that much of the nuance and detail from the London Symphony Chorus was lost in the echo. Individual contributions from the instrumentalists of the LSO fared better. Fortunately, the deliberately amorphous and vibrato-less presentation of the opening ‘Representation of Chaos’ was not obscured, nor the absolutely-still first vocal number, before the light burst in, rightly bringing energy and vigour into the performance, and also vibrato thereafter. The accumulation of sound in the musical recreation of a sunrise later in Part One was also majestic.

The vocal soloists provided three rather different personalities. Sarah Tynan imparted a direct, immediate tone to her singing, which enabled her voice to carry well. Her wide vibrato was a little too forthright for the simple, pastoral mood of ‘Now verdure fills the meadows’, but was apt for the more flirtatious ‘On mighty pinions rising’ with the reference to the turtle dove and his mate, and accompanying woodwind arabesques. Robert Murray sang with a freshness and radiance which expressed eloquently this work’s conception of man as the rational and enlightened master of nature. Neal Davies took on the bass part with more-theatrical vigour which suited the vivid word-setting of Haydn’s score, such as the enunciating of God’s words in Part Two to be fruitful and to multiply. But as the narrator of the oratorio, his reading of the recitatives, in particular, called for a more calm and dispassionate declamation.

Given the physical context, much gradation and contrast was obviously obliterated. Setting that aside, Edward Gardner must be commended for sustaining an account of Handelian grandeur that did not take itself too seriously or become pompous.

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