Die Schöpfung (The Creation) [Sung in German]
Susan Gritton (soprano)
James Gilchrist (tenor)
Hanno Müller-Brachmann (bass)
Brighton Festival Chorus
Academy of St Martin in the Fields
Sir Neville Marriner
Reviewed by: Timothy Ball
Reviewed: 8 July, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
Following the horrible happenings in London on Thursday, 7th July, the Barbican management decided to make this, the opening concert of the “Mostly Mozart” series, a free event.Whilst not a capacity audience, it was an appreciative one, undoubtedly grateful that music-making can go on, in spite of the dreadful things which occurred not very far from the Barbican and which, indeed, forced the Centre to cancel events scheduled for Thursday evening.
Haydn’s oratorio, “The Creation”, had always been the intended work for this concert, but its journey from chaos to light, its reflection on new things being created, and its revelling in the joy of the gift of life itself, made it all the more appropriate on this particular evening.
“Die Schöpfung” was given in German – an intended English surtitle device could not be delivered, apparently, due to transportation difficulties – and one savoured the vivacity of Haydn’s invention in this prodigious score.
Sir Neville Marriner led what might be termed a ‘traditional’ reading, with a full-blooded orchestral contribution, and some strong choral singing.
Some of his tempos were perhaps a little on the measured side – it is generally accepted nowadays that ‘andante’ and ‘adagio’ markings at the end of the eighteenth century were not interpreted as slowly as they were in the nineteenth. But Marriner’s reading of these indications was decidedly stately, though this did allow one to relish fine playing and singing, even if necessary momentum was occasionally forsaken.
Once past some initial ensemble problems – not all the tutti chords in the introduction were together, and the great cry of “Licht” was anticipated by an over-eager chorister – the performance was sure-footed and had considerable integrity. One very welcome aspect was Marriner’s refusal to linger or delay between movements – they followed swiftly on, which lent a dramatic, even at times operatic, flavour to the proceedings.
The Brighton Festival Chorus was in excellent form, and the greatchoruses which conclude parts one and two had a visceral impact, and here, Marriner impressed by adopting swift tempos, so there was a good degree of exhilaration generated. In the hushed duet with chorus in part three, the intensity of Haydn’s setting was fully conveyed, with playing and singing being both rapt and poised.
Standing in for an indisposed Emma Bell, Susan Gritton’s soprano epitomised grace and refinement, even if she could not dominate with her ‘top C’ in her first solo with the chorus. In her arias, she coloured words delightfully, though I felt some of herornaments – like those of her colleagues – were not always stylistically apt, being more suited to Handel than to Haydn.
James Gilchrist’s firm tenor is invariably a pleasure to hear, and his recitatives had appropriate urgency.
Hanno Müller-Brachmann was immensely impressive in an awkwardly-written part; it is really too high for a bass and too low for a baritone. But Müller-Brachmann did not fail to deliver Haydn’s lines with care, conviction and character. Quite apart from the dramatic depictions of lions and other animalia, he was especially good as Adam in part three, his more measured lines being genuinely affecting in association withSusan Gritton’s Eve.
Some cuts were made in part three, but this was, overall, a thoroughly heart-warming and life-affirming occasion. There was no more appropriate work for the circumstances in which this performance was given.