United Kingdom Haydn: Rachel Chapman (soprano), Ben Johnson (tenor), Matthew Hargreaves (bass), Thames Philharmonic Choir, Thames Festival Orchestra, John Bate (conductor), Cadogan Hall, London, 13.6.2015 (AS)
Haydn: The Creation
The Thames Philharmonic Choir came into being half a century ago and this concert was part of its Golden Jubilee season. The Choir was founded by John Bate, who has served as Music Director for the whole of its existence.
Sometimes audiences are blissfully unaware of how concerts are prepared. In this case, though the choir had been thoroughly prepared by Bate in a series of rehearsals, the soloists, choir and orchestra came together for just one general rehearsal in the afternoon of the concert. The fact that such a high standard of performance was achieved in such a situation is a credit to the musicianship and experience of John Bate, and the professionalism of the solo singers and instrumentalists. Inevitably there were moments when the orchestra sounded under-rehearsed, but the singing was confident and first-rate, not only that of the full-toned choir, but the soloists, too. Both the tenor Ben Johnson (Uriel) and bass Matthew Hargreaves (Raphael) have appealingly fresh and attractive voices, and their characterful performances left nothing to be desired: though the programme helpfully contained the text – it was of course the English version – their diction was particularly clear. Rachel Chapman also gave a sympathetic account of the third angel’s part (Gabriel), but her voice had a heavier beat than her male colleagues and was not quite so suited to Haydn’s Classical, usually quite gentle vocal lines.
Fortunately (for at least this listener) no attempt was made at achieving any kind of so-called “authentic” realisation of the score. The small orchestra played modern instruments, though David Ward played the keyboard recitative parts on a fortepiano, and tempi and phrasing adopted by John Bate were what might be called “traditional”: in other words the music was always allowed to breath naturally. There was an attractively fresh quality in this direct, unaffected music making: it raised the spirits and reflected Haydn’s warm and generous musical personality very faithfully.