Prom 2: In (nearly) the Beginning

Die Schöpfung

Christiane Oelze (soprano), Paul Groves (tenor), John Relyea (bass) with Nicola Beckley [alto soloist in final chorus]
Choir of the Enlightenment
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 20 July, 2002
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Always a good place to start (indeed Franz Welser-Möst’s opening concerts as The Cleveland Orchestra’s Music Director this coming September are of this very work), the Proms chose the second night for this performance of Haydn’s The Creation, sung in German, music which had graced the opening night six years ago.

Sir Charles Mackerras was on hand to bring his considerable style and acumen to the performance and, barring the inevitable occasional infelicities from “authentic” instruments and the collapse of what sounded like a box of television equipment (the concert was broadcast on BBC Four), this was a performance to treasure. Starting late, but knocking some ten minutes of the anticipated running time, Mackerras proved a lithe guide to the six days of creation – courtesy of the Bible, Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, an anonymous collaborator and Gottfried van Sweiten’s German translation – and the early days of Adam and Eve (before any appearance by a serpent or apple), tempos kept moving but not without unearthing beauty in almost every bar.

The players were on top form, although (in passing) not as colourful of dress as usual. The ladies were in black whereas they would normally wear at least something golden.Whether there had been a request to dress thus to highlight the colour washes the television producer wanted shone on the organ I don’t know. I am assuming that it was for the TV audience that we got a sudden brightening of illumination when the chorus demanded “Let there be light” and, later, blues for the sea and other colours. We certainly didn’t need it in the hall, and I fervently hope that these weak and distracting gimmicks are not to be a common feature of this year’s Prom season (or future ones). It will not encourage people to watch concerts on television, full stop! Have I made myself clear? [Yes Nick, and you are absolutely right – Ed.]

All you need to bring music to life is expert performers and a cohesive performance. Christiane Oelze excelled, particularly in the opening to Part Two (Day Five), the description of the birds in the air (“Auf starkem Fittiche schwinget sich”) matched by woodwind solos. Americans Paul Groves – an ardent Uriel – and John Relyea – sonorous and imposing as both Raphael and, in Part Three, Adam – were well matched, and the Choir, expertly drilled by chorus master Anthony Walker, added lustre.

It occurs to me that The Creation should be the start of a two-part programme, the second night heralded by Liszt’s From the Cradle to the Grave, followed by Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration before ending with Mozart’s Requiem.Those who missed Mackerras’s interpretation, or who can’t get to hear the re-broadcast this Tuesday afternoon (23 July at 2 o’clock), ought to note in their diaries 30 January 2003, when the OAE return to The Creation as part of the South Bank’s Haydn series – Iván Fischer conducts with soloists Lisa Milne, John Mark Ainsley and Christopher Maltman.

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