Opera + Classical Music Reviews

OAE/Elder @ Royal Festival Hall, London

09 December 2009

Compared with the other great religious works of the baroque period Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s Passions Haydn’s Creation seems particularly gem-like.

For a start it’s considerably shorter, there are also elements of wit to the point of humour and the religious focus is on humankind rather than the Son of God.

Of course, all of these magnificent works hold wide and universal appeal, but for the above reasons the Creation seems especially democratic.

Those familiar with heavier, twentieth-century recordings will have found this concert given by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Sir Mark Elder surprising. But the lighter, rawer sound qualities of this period ensemble revealed all the subtleties of the score, not least in the early rumblings of chaos’, and the chorus murmurings ahead of their blazing cry “Let there by light”.

Likewise, Elder’s decision to present the text in English translation will have disturbed purists but it highlighted a great deal; I missed the sense of purchase on words that the German original offers but here one could fully appreciate Haydn’s sensitive word-painting.

Three distinguished soloists provided a compelling vocal account. Sally Matthews sounded a little tart in Gabriel’s first aria but softened considerably throughout the evening, singing the aria at the start of Day 5 an exquisite duet with flutist Lisa Beznosiuk seductively, and her incarnation as Eve was deeply moving. Neal Davies was persuasive in the bass part, and Andrew Kennedy was an impressive Uriel: his tenor is technically assured, though one would sometimes like more clarity in its expression.

We have come to expect the very finest from the OAE and, while their sound may not have been to everyone’s tastes for this piece, it offered airy clarity with particular emphasis on a full, almost gaudy, brass outfit and an accomplished woodwind section. Elder, displaying his quite staggering versatility, shaped the choir and ensemble in an account that was at once forceful, spry and illuminating.

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