Haydn - The Creation

By Amber Kelly

Artist:  New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Date / Venue:  Friday, August 29th, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington

The NZSO's latest offering in its major works programme sees the presentation of Haydn's monumental oratorio, The Creation, in a three centre season which kicked off in Wellington's Michael Fowler Centre last Friday night. Under the whimsical, but accomplished, baton of early music specialist Nicholas McGegan, accompanied by the Orpheus Choir of Wellington, and a trio of leading singers, the NZSO treated a happy hall of listeners to a spectacle of biblical proportions.

Cast in three parts Haydn's choral work elaborates on the biblical story of the creation. The work was composed for performance in the concert hall rather than the cathedral making the MFC a perfect venue. Sung in its original English libretto, Part I takes its lead from Genesis with the creation of primal light, heaven, and earth. Part II is given to the creation of animals, birds, sea creatures, and lastly, Man. The final action in Part III takes place in the Garden of Eden and relates the ideal relationship of Adam and Eve... before the fall. 

Arguably the most famous section of this oratorio is the opening representation of Chaos. Set in the key of C minor this swelling, brooding passage was electric and truly ‘awesome' to hear. The magic continued as the Orpheus Chorus' great affirmation "and there was light" burst out in a tone that was vibrant, and full­voiced. For the rest of the performance McGregan continued to draw the audience in playing with various contrasts of light and
shade. I especially enjoyed the whimsy and pace McGregan brought to the podium, which paired well with the pictorial quality of Haydn's playful and inventive creation of the animals as the Universe became orderly. McGregan gallantly carried the ensemble through the six days of creation, and it was a pleasure to see the players respond in kind. 

The three soloists were of the highest calibre, and the varied qualities of the music were enhanced by the characterisations of these three singers. They expressed the right degree of wonderment, naivety and joy as the universe unfolded. 

Bass Baritone Jonathan Lemalu led the charge with rich and powerful depictions. As Raphael he did well with the pictorial and playful quality of the music, whilst maintaining an essential dignity ­ not easy when you are singing about the lowly earthworm. He exhibited a wide diversity of tone and dynamics which delighted the audience particularly during his duets with Pierard. 

Madeleine Pierard was entrancing, as she gave a pure and beautiful soprano in her dual roles of Gabriel and Eve. She showed great agility as she soared, tastefully, to a high C'. I particularly enjoyed the authenticity of Pierard's characterisations; she managed the contrasts between her two roles well, sounding variously joyous, innocent, or dignified. 

Irish Tenor, Robin Tritschler, gave an elegant performance, and is clearly an incredibly talented tenor. Though Tritchler's diction was superb, and vocally he had an exquisite tone, I wanted slightly more emotional presence and projected feeling in his performance, I'm sure this will continue to develop with his roles. 

Throughout, the Chorus brought a zeal and spirit that was never over­stated. Entrances were precise, and the fugal passages were strong and majestic which more than made up for any lapses in precision. 

The most telling moments, for me, came from the orchestra. From the thunderous kettledrum to the playful flutes and oboes the orchestra's tone­painting was impressive, and the solo passages were accomplished throughout. The mood changes between parts II and III were distinctly felt as the darkness and brooding of ‘outrageous storms' gave way to the softer intimate setting of the Garden of Eden. Though the musical apportioning Haydn
used may seem somewhat conventional; flutes for the birds, oboes for woods, bassoons for heavy beasts, trombone for lion, the instruments themselves almost seemed born with the creatures they represented. Sitting there it was not just the creation of the Universe, but of Music that I was witnessing.