Tonbridge Philharmonic Society’s most enjoyable performance of Haydn’s Creation given to an enthusiastic audience in a comfortably full Tonbridge School Chapel was a reminder that this well-known standard of the choral repertoire is no easy ride, and while being a work of genius presents its own special challenges for all performers.
The orchestra in particular has to cope not only with the great set-piece choruses and the extraordinary opening ‘Representation of Chaos’ but also with Haydn’s rapid passage-work in the intricately detailed word-painting in the recitatives and arias that so magically evoke the various stages of the creation story. The Philharmonic orchestra, ably led by Susan Skone James, is a fairly large ensemble by present day performance standards and it was perhaps inevitable that some of the finer points of detail became lost. That said, conductor Matthew Willis drew out some beautiful phrasing from the solo wind players, especially oboe and clarinet, while the strings gave us a wonderfully nimble ‘flexible tiger’.
This was a full-on, exuberant performance and the well-balanced chorus responded to Matthew Willis’s cracking tempi with terrific energy and conviction – by far the best performance that this reviewer has heard from them, managing to top the large orchestral sound and singing with commendable attack and precision.
A successful performance of this great work depends to a large extent on the three soloists. Here tenor Andrew Glover stood out, instantly commanding the audience’s attention with a thrilling voice, immense authority and crystal clear diction. A high point of the evening was his glorious singing of the sunrise recitative ‘In splendour bright’. Marc Callahan’s rich baritone voice was a pleasure to listen to even though his performance seemed a touch diffident at times. He and Susan Young (soprano) were at their best in the lyrical duets for Adam and Eve in Part III, providing a rare moment for calm reflection.
It was clear from the start that this was never going to be an over-weighty or ponderous performance – indeed it was the reverse. Throughout a very successful evening, conductor Matthew Willis drove the narrative forward, creating a real sense of drama and bringing all together for the magnificent final chorus ‘Sing the Lord, ye voices all!’