Haydn: The Creation
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, leader Amyn Merchant
Bournemouth Symphony Chorus (Chorus director Gavin Carr)
David Hill: Conductor
Lucy Crowe: Soprano
Benjamin Hulett: Tenor
Christopher Purves: Baritone
You’d struggle to think of a piece of music which is more upbeat and affirmative than this great crowning of Haydn’s life’s work: The Creation. Written in the closing years of the eighteenth century, it tells the story, from the Book of Genesis, of God’s creation of the heavens, the earth, its plants and animals and of the first humans, Adam and Eve. By the end of the work the serpent has yet to enter Eden and ‘delight is ever new’ and ‘life incessant bliss’.
When one thinks of other great choral works of the period, they all contain the expected dramatic ingredients of conflict and resolution. Handel’s Messiah addresses not only the Resurrection but the Crucifixion. Mozart’s Requiem balances the horror of death with the hope of salvation. That Haydn can make a work without this emotional variety so gripping and involving is itself a miracle of creation.
The work begins with what to modern ears sounds remarkably like the Big Bang. Haydn evokes formless chaos in the orchestra, breaking all the eighteenth-century rules of composition. The BSO strings were utterly compelling in their hushed intensity here, before being triumphs over nothingness in the great choral explosion of ‘and there was light’.
By this time, we had already been reassured by the baritone Christopher Purves’ authority and clarity of diction, and later the contributions of soprano Lucy Crowe and tenor Benjamin Hulett were equally impressive. Crowe’s delightful variety of colour and expression in Gabriel’s description of the creation of the birds was a near show-stopping moment. Later Purves evoked the creation of a range of mammals and insects with a clarity which was almost cinematic. Hulett’s clear diction at the creation of man brought this moment compellingly to life, although it is striking that the creation of man is seen as part of a continuum rather than a new chapter. Perhaps Haydn is sending a ‘green’ message from the grave: we humans are just one part of a bigger picture.
The BSO coped masterfully with the huge variety of orchestral colour in this teemingly inventive score. David Hill conducted with his usual self-effacing authority, and the Chorus was in fine voice. A truly exceptional performance, as I think this was, seems to efface itself and plug one in directly to the composer. Haydn himself, wise, sane, grounded and affirmative, seemed to be standing with us: to adapt the chorus’s words, ‘achieved is the glorious work: we behold it and are well pleased’.
Don’t miss the opportunity to hear the concert for yourself on BBC iPlayer: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09sqz83