Big Bang Creation
The Haydn Creation (Proms 2) concert turned out wonderfully well last Saturday. We started in the newly refurbished Amaryllis Fleming Hall at the Royal College of Music with a 'Proms Plus' session. It was good to have about 120 people sharing ideas about this great work with Louise Fryer, David Wyn Jones and myself before the performance.
Two of the many ideas we discussed together were about the English text and the suitability of the Royal Albert Hall for such events.
At the concert itself, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I hardly noticed conductor Paul McCreesh's modest changes to the English. So many of us have grown up with the quaint ''translation of a translation' text used by most choral societies - (ie English to German and back to English) - that we would probably regret any changes to such hallowed phrases as 'With verdure clad' or 'In native worth'. Happily, both of these were retained in this performance.
Some people asked why Paul McCreesh chose to use such big forces. The truth is that Haydn himself conducted large-scale concerts in Vienna for charity concerts, just as he had witnessed in England at the 1791 Handel Commemoration performances in Westminster Abbey, where the musicians numbered more than 1,000. Haydn's Viennese orchestral parts show that in some numbers he doubled, and even trebled the wind parts. For a big space like the Albert Hall these reinforcements were entirely convincing. More provocatively, Paul McCreesh was also prepared to cut the orchestra to a string octet and solo winds in the magical 'bird' aria 'On mighty pens'. As it turned out, this gave us one of the highlights of the evening.
I know there have been countless performances of The Creation already this year, and there are many more to come. But this Prom concert was one of the best. The clarity of the choral singing and the winning instrumental solos were stunning. I can strongly commend a visit the BBCiPlayer before the end of the week to sample this performance.