Review: Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, NCH
The Creation is a masterpiece of Haydn's old age. Visiting London in the 1790s, his inspiration was fuelled on hearing several Handel oratorios and, through his agent, suggesting a libretto based on the Book of Genesis and Milton's Paradise Lost. Haydn rose to the bait and completed his oratorio in 1798. The piece comes to Dublin this week for a star-studded occasion directed with immense authority by Sir Simon Rattle .
Taking time off from Berlin Philharmonic duties, Rattle leads his second ensemble – Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment – and is joined by the 34-strong Choir of the Enlightenment together with soloists Sally Matthews, John Mark Ainsley and Peter Rose.
Rattle's approach to the music has extraordinary verve and Haydn's miraculous scene-painting score of the 'six days of creation' is ignited by his electrifying direction.
His forces respond to his commands with unfailing alacrity and theatrically.
This is not to suggest the performance misses subtlety or sensitivity as these qualities are also superbly managed and delicately voiced.
The work's opening Representation of Chaos sets the tone of excellence to follow. The orchestra's period instruments catch the disturbed confusion before the radiance of the 'new created world'.
This introduces bass soloist Peter Rose and his wonderfully enunciated recitatives and arias. Rose has a way with projecting words and his extensive range travels from a dark weighty bottom to a luminously light top with every syllable crystal clear en route.
Sally Matthews, a late replacement for the scheduled soprano, produces beautifully phrased lines in her arias, notably 'With verdure clad' and 'On mighty pens uplifted'.
Her diction may be less potent but she produces an exquisitely refined sound.
John Mark Ainsley brings distinction to his tenor role and is constantly expressive without stress or strain. The three voices blend handsomely together and, despite Rattle's spirited tempi, never lose their intertwining rapport.
Rattle keeps his choir and orchestra on their toes but the former's attack is effectively striking with the relative smallness of its number belying the wealth of its musical force.
The orchestra's instrumental colours are a constant delight with each section serving the highly imaginative Haydn perfectly.
A fortepiano adds its own special timbres to both recitative and aria.
A performance of The Creation then that should be recorded in the NCH's history as 'simply phenomenal'.