On a bitterly cold evening in January, how wonderful to hear this dramatic retelling of the familiar Creation story with the The Chichester Singers and Southern Pro Musica, conducted by an inspirational Jonathan Willcocks. The audience were warm with appreciation even if the air was freezing. The infectious music of Haydn and his colourful instrumentation depicting God in the very act of creation was brought to life vividly by the excellent orchestra, disciplined chorus and professional soloists, Margaret Ravalde, Thobela Ntshanyana and Kieran Rayner.
The opening depiction of chaos was revealed by the clean lines of the orchestra, bringing to life the chromatic harmonies as the earth was being formed. It was dramatic to have the opening chorus sung from memory and the magical moment when the Light of God shone out in sound. Uriel, sung by an exciting South African tenor, drew the audience into the drama of light and darkness. Raphael, sung by Kieran Rayner, the bass soloist, engaged with the audience from the start and brought the thunder and lightning, rain and sparkling snow to Chichester Cathedral. Gabriel’s interjections rang out with her sweet soprano, encouraging the chorus to praise God and His marvellous works. Raphael’s aria depicting the sea and its rolling billows was pure theatre, reminding us that Haydn wrote many operas though sadly not so often performed.
With Verdure Clad felt a little heavy from the orchestra and could have been more dance- like in contrast to the boisterous seas, but generally the colourful depiction of the Genesis and Paradise Lost texts were well judged. In Awake the Harp the chorus kept the lines clear, but they could have had a little more in the tank to sustain the mighty ‘God’ as they could not quite keep the excitement and wonder that the conductor was asking for. However, the words were generally clear and in that tricky acoustic not an easy task. The choral sound always tends to be a little muddy at that end of the cathedral, whereas instrumental colours come through more clearly.
After the interval we continued with a glorious depiction of the familiar English landscape, with some lovely woodwind colours. It almost seems that Haydn was inspired by our very own country.
There were occasional moments when the soloists lost vocal clarity but generally the ensemble work was good from all three singers. The chorus were on top form and the sopranos soared away into the heights, while lovely rich sounds from the other three parts produced a well-rounded timbre and the obvious enjoyment by all helped to create a lively and memorable performance.