The Barbican turned the evening's opening concert of the Mostly Mozart festival into a free event, as a signal of solidarity with Londoners. That ensured a good turn-out, even if it didn't quite catch the city's mood of "business as usual". On the other hand, Haydn's Creation, already programmed, was perfect for that mood.
The oratorio was inspired by the composer's experience of London and its grand choruses. It begins with a Representation of Chaos, proceeds to a famously blazing assertion of "Let there be light", and goes on to celebrate the planet and all its species with music of uplifting energy.
Having raised an eyebrow at the choice of performing the work here in German, it turned out that a translation was held up by the previous day's chaos. The point isn't only that Haydn wanted both English and German versions to stand, but about getting the sound of the German language, about articulation rather than accent. Brighton Festival Chorus didn't spit out the consonants in pianissimo, and even at full volume, words were muffled.
Still, this was a robust performance, chorally at its best in the stirring numbers towards the end of Part I. Fugal textures were firm and clear, and even if tonally unsubtle, singing was precise and well balanced.
Tonal subtlety was the orchestra's strength, with some of the best wind players in town relishing their moments of prominence to evoke the procession of birds and animals. Detail made its impact without fuss, whether in the rich swirl of lower strings for the creation of fish, or in the quiet presence of timpani beneath hushed voices during the scene in Paradise. Sir Neville Marriner's conducting of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields made the opening dissonances forthright, and later delivered a finely graded sunrise, from faint to glaring.
The three solo singers divided into two kinds. Firm, bright and British, the tenor James Gilchrist and soprano Susan Gritton told the tale with enthusiasm, shapely phrasing and fine flourishes. Gritton's brilliant scale up to a top note, early on, was a highlight. The German bass-baritone Hanno Müller-Brachmann, however, was on a different plane from the rest of the performance. His first entry was hushed, inward, compelling. It's a richly coloured voice that he was later able to make intense, searching and lyrical as well as dramatic - a name to watch for.
'Mostly Mozart' to 31 JulyReuse content