Haydn’s Creation

 All Saints Parish Church, Otley, Saturday 23rd November 2019

HAYDN’S great oratorio, The Creation, is a challenge for even the very best of choruses. Although the biblical story from Genesis is largely told by the soloists through recitative and aria, the choruses form the backbone of the work and mark the passing of the seven days of Creation. Nor are these routine choruses: the vocal lines are sometimes cruelly high and the wonderful fugues, which Haydn borrowed from his experience of Handel’s oratorios in London, are complex and require continuous attention.

The audience at Saturday’s performance experienced the Ilkley and Otley choral societies in good voice and up to the challenges of the music. Under the direction of guest conductor, Tom Newall, the voices were well balanced, tuning was generally good and the words were well projected; but, above all, the singers sounded as if they were enjoying themselves and threw themselves enthusiastically into the difficult fugal sections. I particularly enjoyed the performances of ‘Awake the harp’ and ‘Achieved is the glorious work’. There could perhaps have been a bit more dynamic light and shade and that most difficult of tricks for large choruses, real piano singing never quite came off.

The trio of young soloists taking the parts of the archangels Gabriel [Daniella Sicari, soprano], Uriel [Christopher Littlewood, tenor] and Raphael [Thomas Hopkinson, bass] were on excellent form. Their individual contributions were intelligently sung, with a good use of ornamentation and when they came together in, for instance, the trio ‘On thee each living soul awaits’, there was a pleasing balance between the voices. It was unfortunate that the solo contributions to the choruses were not always easy to hear.

In the second half, Thomas Hopkinson and Daniella Sicari made a delightful pairing as Adam and Eve. Both characterful voices, they managed to make the highly gendered sentiments of the libretto sound convincingly appropriate. Tom Moore played the fiendish organ part with some panache, although some differences of opinion as to tempi occasionally took the shine off what is always a difficult task.

The performance deserved the excellent reception it got at the end, although it was a pity that the absence of any indication of the position of the interval – one of the many little eccentricities of the programme – prevented adequate applause at the halfway point! I very much look forward to hearing the next concert from these two choirs.

Chris Skidmore

Ilkley Gazette 28 November 2019