Saturday, March 14, 2009


Waltham Singers at Chelmsford Cathedral


When Charles Darwin was born, 200 years ago last month, Joseph Haydn had but months to live. His Creation, of course, is a strictly scriptural affair, with God's six days' work presented in a series of pictorial choruses, arias and recitatives.

In the Cathedral last week we heard the first part, taking us up to the lights in the firmament of the heavens.

Andrew Fardell's expressive reading gave us all the images of Genesis: the eddying face of the waters, for instance, and the glorious blaze of light from the choir, who were responsive to the big moments, but also the drama and rhythm of the closing passages, including the familiar Heavens Are Telling.

The three soloists had a sizeable share of the story, too, with Helen Meyerhoff's Gabriel making light work of In Verdure Clad, Christopher Foster's Raphael evoking the limpid brook, and late replacement American tenor Paul Austin Kelly especially effective in the calm beauty of the moonlight.

In this programmatic music you can often get the gist without understanding the words. But in Rossini's shamelessly operatic Stabat Mater I'd defy anyone to tell from the music that this is a deeply religious work, with the Mother of God weeping for the death of her son. Nonetheless, this was a powerful performance, with Susanna Spicer joining the soloists – a wonderful duet with Helen Meyerhoff – and a high standard of choral singing, particularly perhaps in the unaccompanied plea for the soul to enter heaven at death, which preceded the upbeat final Amen.

The accompaniment was provided by the Chameleon Orchestra. Although there was some splendid playing by brass and by strings, there were times, in the Rossini especially, where their forces overwhelmed the efforts of the soloists.

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