A Real Haydn Treat to Open the Edinburgh International Festival 2018

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United KingdomUnited Kingdom Edinburgh International Festival 2018 [2] – The Opening Concert, Haydn: Sarah Tynan (soprano), Robert Murray (tenor), Neal Davies (bass), National Youth Choir of Scotland (director – Christopher Bell), Scottish Chamber Orchestra / Edward Gardner (conductor), Usher Hall, 4.8.2018. (SRT)

HaydnThe Creation

The last time Edward Gardner was on the podium at the Edinburgh International Festival he was conducting an electrifying Peter Grimes in 2017. That came forcibly back to my mind while watching him conduct The Creation, because he marshalled all of his theatrical skills to bring Haydn’s most dramatic work to thrillingly vivid life.

Of course, Haydn makes it easy with his explicitly literal depictions of verdant fields, tumbling whales and the sinuous worm, but Gardner let no opportunity pass him by, and it made for the most exciting Creation I’ve heard in years. In this, of course, he was helped by the Five-Star players of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, who really wowed me in this work with Harry Christophers back in 2015. They’ve lost none of their flair in it, and their partnership with Gardner really works. You could hear it as the strings scythed their way through chaos and as C major exploded into life with the creation of light. Likewise the pastoral winds that evoked the floral meadows seemed to spring from bucolic innocence, in contrast to the natural brass which gave an exciting edge to the climaxes (most especially the trombone which blew a fantastic raspberry to depict the beasts of the field).

The other major component of the sound was, of course, the chorus. In all my years of festival going it has always been the Edinburgh Festival Chorus that has sung the opening concert, so it’s quite a statement for the EIF to give this year’s gig to NYCOS instead. That’s partly because 2018 is Scotland’s Year of Young People, something the festival is commemorating across the board with lots of youth orchestras and youth access schemes. However, this was no mere token, because the phenomenally talented singers of NYCOS would shame any rivals with their professionalism. The sound they make is, yes, fresher and definitively youthful, but it’s also brilliantly clean. Their diction is exceptional, and their grasp of the music’s structure is really impressive. That came out especially well in the fugal choruses, especially ‘Glorious be his name for ever’ at the end of Part Two, where the basses led a masterclass in clarity and distinctiveness that many other choruses could learn from. Throughout, the great choruses of praise combined the refinement of a cathedral choir with the enthusiasm of a football chant. That’s no mean feat, and made for a really exciting evening.

Next to that the trio of soloists had a lot to live up to, but they managed it. Sarah Tynan’s pearly soprano sounded a little pale above the stave, but was never less than lovely. Neal Davies’ gnarly bass didn’t quite work for Adam, but he had all the declamatory power necessary for the earlier utterances, peaking triumphantly in ‘Now heaven in fullest glory shines.’ Robert Murray’s tenor was a real treat; authoritative in his angelic utterances but also delightfully sweet, especially in the trio at the end of Part Two.

Add in the use of Paul McCreesh’s zingy English translation and this opening concert was a real treat. Roll on the next three weeks!

Simon Thompson

The concert was recorded and will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Monday 10th September.

The 2018 Edinburgh International Festival runs in venues across the city until Monday 27th August. For full details click here.

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