Choral society’s creative triumph (March 2012)
READING’S Concert Hall last Saturday evening provided all that was needed for Henley Choral Society’s performance of Haydn’s Creation under the direction of Will Dawes. There was sufficient stage room for an expanded chorus, three soloists, and an extended Southern Sinfonia, comprising full woodwind, brass and keyboard; and the high ceiling had the capacity to contain the full force of anything thrown at it.
In three parts covering seven days, to mirror how long the Old Testament tells us it took to create the world, the work’s structure is clearly predetermined. It is then the composer’s task to create a musical canvas. In this respect Haydn was master of his palette.
The soprano, Sophie Bevan, enjoyed the greater share of the action, acquitting herself magnificently in a performance that was more stage opera than oratorio. She pulled it off incredibly well, while being sympathetically supported by stand-in tenor Thomas Hobbs and bass Giles Underwood. All three were as one in their appreciation of the highly evocative libretto and the onomatopoeic nature of the accompaniment. Pushing the envelope with the content, they played off each other wittily, often teasingly. Rewarding moments included Giles Underwood’s portrayal of the “rolling billows” on Day 3, together with Sophie Bevan’s delectable air “with verdure clad….”. its ornamentation tripping effortlessly off the tongue. The kind of aria that would elicit spontaneous applause at the Met or Covent Garden.
If the choir felt undervalued and underemployed by the composer, the final chorus of Day 4 began to make amends as they alternated energetically with the trio of soloists in a contrapuntal frenzy that brought Part 1 to its close. Starved of well-merited prominence (most of this accorded to the soloists), they grabbed what few opportunities there were to display their talent. Achieved Is The Glorious Work in Part 2, was infused with fugal intensity by all sections of the choir and was carried along on a sea of sonorous brass. In Part 3, where both the frequency and power of their appearances stepped up a notch, Hail, Bounteous Lord! Almighty, Hail! was probably their best of the evening, its momentum carrying through unchecked to the monumental, fugal finale.
Southern Sinfonia had a pivotal role, providing the programmatic detail that suffused the work throughout. Their playing was incredibly subtle, often down to a whisper. Highlights included the sunrise in Day 4, beautifully sculpted, the imitation of birds in Day 5, courtesy of the flutes, followed in complete contrast by a gorgeous thick-textured viola/cello accompaniment, reminiscent of Brahms’s sextets, to Giles Underwood’s Be Fruitful All, And Multiply!
Outstripping all else came the moment, close to the end, when Thomas Hobbs invited us to “behold the blissful pair where hand in hand they go”. His purity of sound and sensitive expression were the perfect introduction to a glorious duet between Adam and Eve (soprano and bass), projected with great charm against a background of solo wind and discreet choral undercurrents.
This was a triumph for Will Dawes and a true coming of age for Henley Choral Society. The performance was impeccable, dramatic, witty and subtle. There was no loss of quality at any point and the energy and commitment of all who took part was sustained right up to the final bar. South Bank, eat your heart out…..
Henley Choral Society are back in St Mary’s Church, Henley for their next concert on June 16, offering a patriotic menu of British composers, including Vaughan Williams, Cecil Armstrong Gibbs and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. For tickets call (01491) 572795. The choir is always on the lookout for new members; interested singers should call (01491) 576929 to speak to the membership secretary.
Source: Henley Standard