This London Symphony Orchestra concert marked the Barbican Centre’s 40th birthday, so we had pre-concert performances around the Barbican foyers by young musicians, and a general party atmosphere. The main event though was Haydn’s oratorio The Creation (sung in English), chosen perhaps because of its joyfulness, or its slightly obscure London origins, or because the LSO’s Music Director Sir Simon Rattle is a self-confessed “Haydn nut”. Rattle, however, was indisposed and Harry Christophers took his place.

Harry Christophers
© Mark Allan | LSO/Barbican

Before we were plunged into Haydn’s “representation of chaos” Will Gompertz, the Barbican’s Artistic Director, and Kathryn McDowell, the LSO’s Managing Director, spoke of the Barbican, the LSO’s role there... and the war in Ukraine. McDowell’s announcement that the concert was to be dedicated to the people of Ukraine was greeted with loud applause.

The London Symphony Chorus at first seemed absent, but when during the opening music for ‘The First Day’ all the occupants of the front stalls stood up and turned round to face the audience, we realised why only the LSO were on stage. Christophers had his back to them, which perhaps explained the TV monitors on the balcony? No, when the lights went up on the choir, at the back of the stalls a spotlit Simon Halsey, their Chorus Director, stood to direct the singers he had prepared. This unusual arrangement worked extraordinarily well, for Christophers and Halsey worked as one, and no imbalance or asynchronicity marred Haydn’s elaborate integration of chorus, orchestra and soloists.

The London Symphony Chorus and Orchesra perform The Creation
© Mark Allan | LSO/Barbican

The British soloists made a fine team. The Uriel of tenor Andrew Staples deployed his plangent tone to pleasing effect not just in his Part One aria announcing the “first of days”, but in his long recitative opening Part Three. No classical recitatives are less secco than those in The Creation and all the singers rose to their lyrical demands. Lucy Crowe was as ever sweet of sound and pure of intonation. Roderick Williams, whose vocal authority makes him an ideal Raphael, patiently explaining how the world came to be. As Adam and Eve in Part Three, Williams and Crowe made a truly “blissful pair” in their duet with chorus; how far it seemed from this hymn of prelapsarian praise to our troubled times.

Lucy Crowe and Harry Christophers
© Mark Allan | LSO/Barbican

All three soloists were attentive to the text, and in the absence of surtitles their precise diction enabled the audience to look at the performers more than the programme. But many present might have sung this evergreen choral favourite, and will have relished the fine work of the LSC under Halsey, who needed no score to cue in tricky fugal entries. Choral intonation was impressive throughout a wide dynamic range, announced with a blazing “And there was light!”. It is rare for the LSO to take a literal and metaphorical back seat at one of their own concerts, but they supplied every instrumental need from the groping harmonies of the opening, through details such as the limpid flutes at the start of Part Three, and many a spirited string passage (violins placed either side of the conductor with double basses split two and three to support both groups). In Sir Simon’s absence, Christophers conducted with a spirit and enthusiasm suggesting he was another Haydn nut.

Ticket holders, after struggling across a capital with the tube on strike, could claim a free “glass of sparkling wine” on arrival tonight. Prosecco to be sure, but Haydn’s music was vintage champagne, and the performance was celebratory enough for any occasion.

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