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.
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Notting Hill Carnival: Woman shares selfie after being ‘punched in face for telling man to stop groping her’
- 2 Joan Rivers: 'Palestinians deserve to be dead'
- 3 Daily Show's Jon Stewart destroys Fox News for its Ferguson coverage
- 4 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
- 5 Botched ice bucket challenge leaves man critically injured after plane drops hundreds of gallons of water
Great British Bake Off 2014: Diana Beard quits after falling ill
Nicki Minaj suffers wardrobe malfunction during MTV VMAs performance with Ariana Grande and Jessie J
Homer Simpson takes the ALS ice bucket challenge because of course he does
Friends reunion: Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow and Courteney Cox perform mini sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
Great British Bake Off embroiled in Baked Alaska 'sabotage' scandal
Exclusive: We share blame for creating 'jihad generation', says Muslim strategist
Robin Williams Emmys tribute led by Billy Crystal criticised for including 'racist' joke about Muslim woman
The Rotherham child abuse scandal is a tale of apologists, misogyny and double standards
Scottish independence TV debate: Pumped-up Alex Salmond bounces back in bruising second round against Alistair Darling
Do you realise just how foolish the UK looks?
Ukip Douglas Carswell defection: Tory MP jumps ship to join Nigel Farage
- < Previous
- Next >