BBC Proms reviews

Prom 2: Gabrieli Consort & Players/McCreesh @ Royal Albert Hall, London

18 July 2009

Royal Albert Hall, London

Royal Albert Hall, London (Photo: David Iliff)

Paul McCreesh marshalled his colossal period instrument forces to deliver as exciting performance of Haydn’s The Creation as you’re ever likely to hear.

Mention period performance and the image that usually appears is of a slimmed-down choir and orchestra giving an impeccably nuanced performance of a work from the Baroque or Classical period. Not here, as conductor Paul McCreesh had assembled the biggest period orchestra I’ve ever seen.

I counted at least 12 double basses and in addition to the woodwind in the main orchestra there were two additional woodwind groups placed either side. Throw in double trumpets and kettle drums and you have a mighty sound that at full pelt rattled the rafters of the Royal Albert Hall.

It was viscerally exciting, yet always musical. I don’t think I’ve ever heard such a rapturous account of this astonishingly-original work before. Hearing it on original instruments was a revelation in itself, as their use brought out miracles of colour from the score never before has Haydn’s word painting come across with such clarity.

Raphael’s recitative ‘Straight opening her fertile womb’ contains references to roaring lions, flexible tigers, steeds, cattle and even worms all brilliantly conjured up by the composer in orchestration so vivid that proves he was quite simply ahead of his time.

Over and over again detail shone through, in no small part down to McCreesh’s total grasp of the work’s architecture, but he was also aided and abetted by playing of such breathtaking beauty and precision by a greatly augmented Gabrieli Consort & Players, that this Prom will linger long in the memory.

The choral contributions from Chetham’s Chamber Choir and members of Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir were spot on in their pinpoint accuracy, whether singing in a hushed whisper or at full throttle. Add a line-up of soloists that couldn’t be bettered including Mark Padmore, Rosemary Joshua, Neal Davies, Peter Harvey and the hugely promising Sophie Bevan as an enchanting Eve and you have a performance that will stand as a benchmark for all future performances of this work.

McCreesh has recorded The Creation with the same forces and soloists (apart from Joshua and Bevan) for DG Archiv (477 7361) and no CD collection can afford to be without it. An unforgettable evening.

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Gabrieli / McCreesh @ St John’s Smith Square, London
Gabrieli / McCreesh @ St John’s Smith Square, London
Prom 2: Gabrieli Consort & Players/McCreesh @ Royal Albert Hall, London