Haydn’s “The Creation”

What a marvellous life-enhancing piece ‘Papa’ Haydn’s ‘The Creation’ is! And how appropriate that Tonbridge Philharmonic Society’s performance on June 26th should celebrate the 20th anniversary of their relationship with their German partners in this concert, the Evangelische Kantorei from Heusenstamm in Germany. Conductor Robin Morrish dedicated the concert to the memory of Harold Best, long-term playing member and servant of the Society who passed away in May. What more suitable work could there possibly be to mark these two events than this joyous celebration of the creation of order from chaos. This most popular of choral works is astonishing in the variety and brilliance of its orchestration particularly for 1796, when it was written. The Creation was inspired by a performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt which the composer had heard during one of his visits to London, the text being cobbled together from the Book of Genesis and Milton’s Paradise Lost.

As always, Robin Morrish’s vigorous, clear and caring direction to orchestra, choir and soloists ensured that the whole performance was precisely paced and never once lost momentum. From the Chaos so imaginatively scored by Haydn in the Introduction, through the great C major shout at the creation of Light, the two magnificent choruses in praise of God which close the first two sections, to the final ‘Glory – Hallelujah’, the intensity was sustained with no loss of power, either of choral tone or orchestral weight. The large vocal forces – and orchestral! – produced a spine-tingling sound in the ‘Heavens are telling’ and in the final ‘Completed is the glorious work’ the successive fugal entries piled one on the other to thrilling effect.

The orchestral playing was fine indeed, enriched by the various solos for the woodwind, the flute in particular sounding quite lovely in the Chapel acoustic. The brass section too deserves mention, especially the horns for their contribution to the many recitative and aria sections.

The three soloists, Archangel narrators and commentators on the Creation were Patrizia Kwella, soprano, Wynford Evans, tenor and Alex Ashworth, bass. They were exemplary in their enunciation of the text; exemplary too, in their wonderfully apt soft singing, making the contrasts in the narrative all the more effective.

Opening the proceedings as it were, Alex Ashworth’s soft-grained bass announced the creation of earth and heaven, every word crystal clear, and later in the piece with sufficient extension to go for the low D demanded by ‘…the sinuous worm.’ The taxing high tessitura of the soprano writing in the first and second parts appeared to give Patrizia Kwella one or two momentary problems, but all reservations were blown away by her exquisite delivery of the opening words of the Adam and Eve duet, breath-taking in its quiet intimacy, drawing everyone in the Chapel into the drama. This followed Wynford Evans’s ‘beautifully-sung ‘Morning’ section, introducing some of the loveliest words in the whole work – ‘pure harmony descends’ indeed. This Uriel sang effortlessly, with even tone from top to bottom, and with a smile in his voice

What a marvellous way to spend a summer evening!

David Inman