Opera | The BBC Philharmonic and Leeds Chorus play ‘The Creation’

The BBC Philharmonic came across from Salford and teamed up with the Leeds Philharmonic Chorus for a three-part recital of Haydn’s Creation.

The work comprises Haydn’s oratorio of the Book of Genesis, narrated by tenor, soprano, and bass soloists over a complete symphonic orchestra, and supported by a full chorus.

Haydn’s work amusingly describes God as a dozy optimist, infinitely smug with his messy and imperfect creation

Neal Davies’ impressive bass is responsible for the many recitatives features throughout the work (“In the beginning…”), in the role of the angel Raphael. The playful lyric is rife with blasphemic sarcasm, to which justice is paid by a hammy performance from Stephen Colbert-lookalike Davies. It is through him that Haydn’s work amusingly describes God as a dozy optimist, infinitely smug with his messy and imperfect creation.

The angel Gabriel is sung by the tenor, a wistful Adrian Dwyer who spends any time not singing sat gazing dreamily and questioningly up at the wonderfully ornate decor of the town hall.

These two performers are somewhat pushed aside by the enchanting Sarah Fox, who in a violet dress trounces over the spongy features of both Davies and Dwyer. She sings joyous and harmonious parts as the angel Uriel with a heart-achingly tearful expression. In an aria, her soft yet powerful soprano entwines with a lone flute like birdsong. Her voice carries marvellously over the chorus, yet is not at all piercing, and readily floats in and out of the forefront during her solos.

Indeed, despite Fox’s superior talent, she generously brings out the chorus, who do a sublime job probably owing to the magnificence and acoustics of the auditorium. You can close your eyes and get immersed in the middle of the waves of the various vocal sections, seeming to swell towards you from all 360 degrees. The immersion is like looking up at the sky for long enough such that you start to believe you are up there, and become scared of falling.

And indeed, fall you do, when the incongruity of the solo performers comes to light. Davies plays the part of Adam and, duetting with Fox’s Eve, turns to her with exactly the same laughing derision that seemed appropriate in the earlier parts. This is unwelcome to Fox’s tremulous delicacy, and she resentfully wipes away his clumsy spittle.

Dwyer briefly comes alive at the start of the Part III. He gracefully and liberally adds modulation and septimal notes to Brahms’ relatively dry score, smiling at his own brash confidence. This ends, sadly, with him surprisingly croaking out on a critical low note, and he spends the rest of the performance shaking his head and muttering into his lap. The orchestra pauses before his final aria, and the conductor has to come over and prod him to get up out of his chair.

Alban Smith

Leave a Reply