OAE/Simon Rattle – Haydn’s The Creation

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

Gabriel / Eve – Sally Mathews
Uriel – John-Mark Ainsley
Raphael / Adam – Peter Rose

Choir of the Enlightenment

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Sir Simon Rattle

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 6 May, 2014
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Sir Simon Rattle. Photograph: Simon FowlerI’ve often thought that The Creation might be a strong candidate for being staged – along the lines, say, of Messiah or the Bach Passions. Imagine the fun a bold director could have with this rationalist fantasy of an ordered universe, or with Eve’s benign submission to Adam. For now, though, Simon Rattle’s performance with his enlightened vocal and orchestral forces was an ideal sonic visualisation of Haydn’s masterpiece. In fact, the orchestral interjections on behalf of finny tribes, cheerful lions, sinuous worms et al didn’t overplay their hand, avoiding a process of aural Disneyfication that can slather layers of varnish over the surface of Haydn’s sublime fresco.

Rattle managed the pace of the work to allow the brilliantly imagined word-painting its due prominence, so that there was a steady accretion of detail and colour. There was an infectious spontaneity to his splendid Chaos, a post-Big Bang void of free-fall scraps of material and harmony gradually coalescing and moving to the light, the longed-for resolution really lighting the blue touch-paper. The OAE string-playing had a terrific sense of engagement and, where it counted, emphasis, the tightness of the ensemble enhanced, at least visually, by placing the two double bass desks antiphonally either side of the strings, beefed up by Chi-Chi Nwanoku’s continuo bass in the middle. The woodwind grunted, roared and cooed in tune with Haydn’s humane and civilised optimism, and the brass added considerable attack to its characteristic ballast and brilliance.

There was the same sort of immediacy to Peter Rose’s chief archangel Raphael, a portrayal that sailed over the footlights to fold us mere mortals into God’s heavenly plan. True, his vibrato stood out the more against the OAE’s lack of it and Rs were rolled with abandon, but he pointed the text effectively, evoked the teeming menagerie of lions, tigers and sinuous worms with endearing accuracy, and nailed the wonder of Adam’s first dawn with singing of great refinement (and tighter vibrato). John-Mark Ainsley slapped down Uriel’s ‘And God saw the Light’ with thrilling decisiveness and continued to enthral with his impeccable sense of style and drama, filling the RFH with a subliminal pianissimo in ‘In splendour bright’, the OAE surpassing itself in a magnificent sunrise. Uriel sang his finger-wagging adumbration of the Fall primly sitting down – eerily anticipating Loge’s warning to the gods at the end of Das Rheingold – a neat trick that elegantly muddied the cool waters of sinless innocence and raising a knowing snigger from the post-Fall cynics in the audience. Sally Matthews (replacing Susan Gritton) was on rapturous form, throwing of Haydn’s coloratura with easy grace and charming the birds out of the trees in ‘On mighty pens’. Following Peter Rose’s lead as Adam, she brought a subtle change of approach in Eve’s humanity.

The 34-strong Choir of the Enlightenment brought weight, attack and leanness of tone to the familiar choruses.With Simon Rattle marking his long collaboration with the OAE as one of its principal artists, this was a sparkling performance of The Creation distinguished by great experience and affection.

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