Creation: Bath Philharmonia and South West Festival Chorus
Bath Philharmonia with South West Festival Chorus – Bath Abbey
"I am following in a very distinguished tradition", was conductor Jason Thornton's opening comment, in which he mentioned Haydn's visit to Bath to stay with his friend Rauzzini, the great Italian castrato singer, buried in Bath Abbey. Haydn may well have conducted Messiah in the Abbey ~ though, happily, Jason didn't seem overawed, and this Creation had some outstanding moments. I've seldom heard a better soprano sound than Sophie Bevan gave us, totally uninhibited, yet secure and well-controlled at the top end, this was singing of great beauty, the phrasing graceful, the tone warm and rounded. Sheer delight. And the trios, a feature of this work, were done with sensitivity and feeling, especially in "On thee each living soul awaits", Gavin Carr's rich bass and James Oxley's resonant dramatic tenor balanced and flowing. I enjoyed Gavin rolling in the foaming billows too, as well as his hushed opening recitative. A favourite of mine, the tenor aria "In native worth", seemed rather rushed to me: my score is marked Andante and this felt more like Allegro. But the solo singing was of the highest quality and it gave the whole performance a real lift.
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Jason Thornton asked a lot of the choir in choosing tempi which were ~ to be charitable ~ pretty lively. We went through "The Heavens are telling" at a pace approaching Presto rather than Allegro: and we achieved the "Glorious work" in record time ~ five and half days not six? Vivace is fine: Presto furioso is rather different! And the mens voices ~ tenors especially, bolstered by some ladies voices ~ and the basses were rather outdone by the sopranos, who were in resplendent voice. But after a delightful "O happy pair", with an admonitory wag of the finger, the final "Sing the Lord" brought us home in fine style.
The orchestra ~ how good to see leader Sophie Langdon back ~ gave very attractive, accurate support, the woodwind playing a notable feature. Just occasionally rather dominant perhaps, but the quieter passages were just right. It was a lively and enjoyable Creation, no doubt just as the Lord intended ~ though we might perhaps have hoped for rather less rain.
Peter Lloyd Williams