MUSIC : The master of us all
The Creation / Royal Opera House Handel's Messiah / Westminster Cathedral
Thursday 23 February 1995
Haydn was already acquainted with Handel's music through Van Swieten's performances in Vienna, but the living tradition that London offered Haydn on his first English visit, albeit with unauthentic numbers of performers, made an altogether new impact. Friends reported that he was absolutely astonished at Handel's majestic vision, declaring, "He is the master of us all." The dramatic use of counterpoint by a composer for whom it was a living expressive force, rather than an archaic exercise, would obviously have appealed to a master of Haydn's technical expertise, while the brilliant homophonic utterances opened Haydn's mind to a whole new range of choral expression.
Haydn's experience of Handel was to be absolutely crucial to his final creative phase, bearing fruit in the last great masses and oratorios, and this confluence of two creative streams was encapsulated last week in performances of Haydn's The Creation at the Royal Opera House and of Handel's Messiah at Westminster Cathedral, where it opened the celebrations of that building's centenary.
John Eliot Gardiner's interpretation of the Haydn, with his Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists, was a splendid affair, rising with the utmost intensity and concentration to the work's joys and mysteries. It was a performance, moreover, that had the good fortune to be taking place in an ideal acoustic, clear enough to allow the teeming details in Haydn's orchestral writing to make their expressive point, yet not so dry as to rob the big moments of their jubilant resonance.
The soloists - Sylvia McNair, Michael Shade and Gerald Finley - sang with style and spirit, while the choruses were delivered with a disciplined attack and enthusiasm which became incandescent at key moments like the end of "The heavens are telling". In its picturesque characterisation and profoundly religious impulse, this was a performance that will lodge in the memory.
Messiah was less favoured by the great spaces of Westminster Cathedral. There is a resonance here that blunts a performance's attack, and creates the impression that all sounds are floating effortlessly - a mixture, perhaps, of what the building actually does to sounds and of the way it encourages performers, especially singers, to project.
James O'Donnell, the cathedral's master of music, set lively sensitive tempos, but from where I was sitting, comparatively near the performers (placed sideways-on against the north wall), contrapuntal details in the Westminster Cathedral Choir's textures were blurred, while sections of harmonic grandeur lost much of their edge.
The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment played with vitality, but were similarly hampered. In fact, solo voices seemed more at home in the acoustic, and Julia Gooding, Felicity Palmer, Richard Edgar-Wilson and Henry Herford all made a fine impression, shaping texts, for instance, with notable clarity.
MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word
Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Exodus Gods and Kings: Ridley Scott never considered casting 'Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such' in lead role
- 2 This letter from a reader explains why women can’t play football
- 3 'You should come to my house and eat cheeses with me': 4-year-old sends adorable love letter to girl at school
- 4 Scientists predict green energy revolution after incredible new graphene discoveries
- 5 Obama: The only people with the right to object to immigration are Native Americans
I'm A Celebrity 2014: Jungle security stepped up after murder and 'suspicious death' close to camp
This house and dental clinic 'piled up like bricks on the brink of collapsing' is why Japan wins at architecture
Jennifer Lawrence scores first UK top 40 single with Hunger Games track 'The Hanging Tree'
Exodus Gods and Kings: Ridley Scott never considered casting 'Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such' in lead role
James Cameron hypes up Avatar sequels: 'You will s**t yourself with your mouth wide open'
Ukip says babies born to immigrants in the UK should be classed as migrants – which would include Nigel Farage’s own children
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
The young are the new poor: Sharp increase in number of under-25s living in poverty, while over-65s are better off than ever
Tamir Rice: 12-year-old boy playing with fake gun dies after being shot by Ohio police
Rochester aftermath: Sacking of Emily Thornberry will make work of Labour MPs '10 times harder'