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.
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 10 ways we damage our teeth – without realising
- 2 Fifa corruption arrests: Nike reported to be 'multinational sportswear company' at centre of bribery claims over Brazil shirt deal
- 3 Facebook Messenger sends 'creepily' precise location data, as revealed by Marauders Map Chrome extension
- 4 Bahar Mustafa: Goldsmiths Students' Union diversity officer to keep her job after vote of no confidence petition fails
- 5 Photo of wedding guest proposing to girlfriend in front of bride and groom goes viral
Grace of Monaco film panned: Screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman as movie gets US debut
Big Brother contestant Aaron Frew removed from house for 'inappropriate behaviour' after flashing fellow contestants
Britain's Got Talent 2015: Jamie Raven divides Twitter as fans expose mind-boggling magic trick
ASAP Rocky gives nauseating response to explicit Rita Ora rap: 'I'm not saying she's a terrible person'
San Andreas 3D, film review: Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson's disaster movie has clear fault lines
EU referendum: David Cameron's rules are a 'democratic disgrace', says French-born Scottish politician set to be denied a vote
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
Australian man punched in the face for defending Muslim women from abuse on train
A nation of inequality: How the UK is failing to feed its most vulnerable people
David Starkey 'tells Amal Clooney to shut up and stop over-promoting human rights'
EU referendum: David Cameron to deny EU migrants and under-18s the chance to vote