REVIEW: Crisp and enthusiastic rendering of Haydn masterpiece in Warwick

Some of the singers at a previous concert
Some of the singers at a previous concert

Clive Peacock reviews Saint James's Singers and Players' concert of Haydn's The Creation at St Mary's church, Warwick on June 3

During day six of The Creation, Raphael recites And God saw everything that he had made and it was very good. Those last five words - “and it was very good” - were not mentioned in the excellent programme notes, but, thanks to bass James Gower’s excellent diction, every word was heard clearly. And those very words accurately describe the Saint James’s Singers performance of this wonderful work.

Handel’s influence on Haydn is well established and, no doubt, The Messiah did inspire Haydn to review the use of Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost, as the foundation to the libretto. Returning from a second visit to London in 1795, Haydn set about planning the first performance in Vienna in 1798; many consider the work to be the greatest triumph of his career.

Thanks to a very generous gift from the estate of the hardworking Penny Mills, The Creation received the attention it deserves, the fine singing performance ably supported by one of the biggest ‘bands’ to be assembled for many a year in St Mary’s Church. Four trombones including a bass trombone, a massive contrabassoon, Adrian Moore at the harpsichord, Kath Sharman’s solo cello support and Rachel Latham’s mellow flute playing of a period instrument all contributed to a memorable event. The orchestral prelude, The Representation of Chaos, starts the three parts of the work and is full of stark chords and shifting harmonies. The sparkling vitality of the players and singers is inspired in no small measure by the enthusiasm of conductor Julian Harris. The singers excelled in Awake the harp, the lyre awake and Achieved is the glorious work.

James Gower is well equipped to sing the role of Raphael - his score is well worn, his bass voice reaches the very lowest parts of the register. He was a joy to hear and memorably sang the most tender of marriage duets when the happy union of Adam and Eve emerges. Soprano Helen Neeves, was polished, hitting the heroic top notes in her eloquent performance. Both Helen and James looked as if they were thoroughly enjoying the experience.

Saint James’s Singers’ attention to the crispness of delivery and unfailing enthusiasm makes every event a notable achievement.