Mozart said “no-one can do it all, joke and shock, create laughter and profound emotion as Haydn can”, and in his oratorio The Creation Haydn reached the pinnacle of his creative powers, outshining every work for choir and orchestra written since, writes Chris Robins.
In this magnificent performance the chorus ‘The Heavens Are Telling’, which concludes Part One, made so many 19th and 20th century works sound redundant - including Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. I know it has long been heresy to say so but we now have to embrace the notion that Haydn is the greatest of music’s geniuses.
Not so much liturgical as masonic and humanist, The Creation celebrates order arising from chaos, using a text largely re-hashed from Milton’s Paradise Lost, translated into German and then back again into English. Musically, it blends Handelian oratorio with Haydn’s own symphonic style to make something almost beyond description.
Its Overture, with ambiguous tonality and dissonances gradually leading to the lucidity of C major, perfectly demonstrates that order can only be understood if we have previously known chaos and its performance by the Royal Northern Sinfonia was a perfect revelation.
The Choral Society were revelatory too. Long gone are the days when their soft-edged sonority expressed religious awe to great effect but was less satisfactory with other styles or emotions. Now, the brighter edge to their tone allows flexibility, precision, forward-motion and a wide range of expression – the result of choral director Gregory Batsleer’s work.
Haydn’s bold tone colours, adventurous harmonies, rhythmic and melodic inventiveness are difficult to deliver and the Choral and the Royal Northern Sinfonia delivered with panache. The hushed stillness preceding ‘And there was light’ followed by a sudden crashing C major chord were devastatingly effective. The storm scenes and depictions of various animals were excellently delineated in the woodwind and brass. The final anthem and gigantic double fugue were fulsomely splendid from the whole company without any loss of nimbleness or precision.
The work is carried by the orchestra who were unsurpassable and under-pinned by a pair of double basses to die for.
Conductor Laurence Cummings kept order effectively with occasional – and audible – leaps and histrionic gestures. Soloists Mary Bevan (soprano), Anthony Gregory (tenor) and Henry Waddington (Bass) were resplendent in the sustained and demanding arias and recitatives with which Haydn showed the way for all composers after him.