Josef Haydn was the most prolific of composers. Symphonies and quartets simply poured from his quill, and of his giant masterworks The Creation is arguably the greatest of all his compositions, the equal (at least) of Mozart’s Requiem or Elgar’s Gerontius.
It exists with both English and German texts, and its many recordings have found the most eminent critics arguing about which performance is to be recommended above all others. Great demands are made on the soloists, and the very finest are needed to bring out the majesty of the vocal writing.
Fritz Wunderlich, unquestionably in the very top rank of tenors, was in the middle of one distinguished recording when he died while taking a break at his hunting-lodge, and this event came to my mind when I was told that at the very last moment Hailsham Choral Society had to find a replacement for their soprano, who was unwell. Helen Bailey, who “stood in”, proved the perfect replacement, well able to produce both the power and the beauty of her demanding role.
How fortunate is Eastbourne in that Jozik Kotz, Hailsham’s conductor and musical director, brought The Creation to All Saints Church on March 23. Everything proclaimed this a most satisfying performance of the work, with not a weak link, and with the choir, soloists and orchestra navigating every note with appropriate light and shade.
The audience certainly noticed that the choir was beautifully dressed for the occasion: the ladies in matching red jackets, the men in evening gear. And the programmes contained a mass of information about the work’s history, as well as a thorough biography of each soloist (except the soprano, of course). The orchestra’s leader, Lisa Wigmore, was identified, and all the musicians were named. Most importantly, so were all thirty-four sections of the music.
Within this huge work a few solos stand out : great singers occasionally sing them on solo recordings, for example. So how did our performers in All Saints compare? Helen Bailey soared effortlessly in With Verdure Clad, with fine orchestral backing, especially from the clarinet. In Native Worth showed Paul Austin Kelly producing “the goods.” Many delicate solos stood out in the orchestral playing, notably from flutes and timpany. The string sound and the brass were exemplary. And throughout, Eastbourne College’s Director of Music Daniel Jordan easily met the demands of a role which is sometimes in bass territory, sometimes baritone.
But the most important comments came from the audience, as they clapped until their hands ached, and sometimes beyond. This was music making of the highest order, and if Haydn was hovering above he would have been well satisfied. A huge work, a fine performance throughout, a welcoming church, appreciative listeners. What more could one ask for? By Robin Gregory.