Haydn’s late 18th century oratorio The Creation is a uniformly uplifting work, but this Melbourne Symphony Orchestra interpretation – their first in six years – rang with such remarkable joy and brightness that audience veterans of The Creation probably smiled with delight. It was a thoroughly welcome dose of beautiful, life-affirming music on a winter’s night, during a period that sometimes seems as dark as when this musical take on the biblical creation made its belated Melbourne debut during World War II.

Sir Andrew Davis © Lucas Dawson
Sir Andrew Davis
© Lucas Dawson

Through the seven days of the world’s divine formation, culminating with Adam and Eve blissing out in Eden before The Fall, a vibrant MSO conjured vivid tonal imagery under the baton of chief conductor Sir Andrew Davis. The massed strings produced a shimmering cloud of sound through which the other instruments were clearly apparent – notably some splendid flute solos and a briefly errant tuba.

Singing Paul McCreesh’s revised translation, which tweaks some of Gottfried van Swieten’s famously idiosyncratic English but retains the period’s poetic grandeur, the MSO Chorus was heavily stacked with female voices (more than two-to-one), which was fundamental to this performance’s light quality – in both senses of the word. Following Davis’ calm lead with exactitude, their emphatic bursts of sound and contrapuntal clarity were wondrous. Among the performance highlights were several monumental choruses, including “Awake the harp” and “The heavens are telling”, which triumphantly concluded days three and four respectively. Guest chorus master Warren Trevelyan-Jones thoroughly deserved his warm reception onto the stage at the concert’s conclusion.

As a trio of angels, briefly joined at the end by mezzo Shakira Tsindos, the soloists were suitably heavenly of voice. Englishman Andrew Staples interpreted Uriel with a golden, agile tenor sometimes so light it brought a countertenor voice to mind – some lovely Baroque phrasing probably contributed to this impression. Fellow Briton Neal Davies (Raphael, as well as Adam in the final part) was listed in the program as a bass, but was very much in bass-baritone mode here. He revealed remarkable range, especially notable in the upper register, and a warm, clear timbre.

Although Australian Siobhan Stagg (Gabriel, Eve) does not have the gentlemen’s impressive Creation experience, this rising young artist was at ease, and revealed why she is enjoying success in Europe. Her elegant soprano was drowned out by the orchestra a few times, but was otherwise strong and technically sure, including coloratura ornamentation that seemed effortless and an admirable capacity for long phrasing.

Clear and expressive during the recitatives, for which they were accompanied by Anthony Abouhamad on a petite fortepiano, Stagg, Davies and Staples sang their arias with majesty, and were arguably at their best during the sumptuous, cohesive duets and trios.

The ethereal, silvery quality of this Creation revealed the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Chorus near their best. In the first of three performances, their harmonious discipline and enjoyment of the music were apparent, and was crowned by the soloists’ sumptuous, sensitive singing. A heartwarming musical experience.