Who better to sing of the birth of the planet and its infancy than a choir of young, fresh voices who themselves only came into the world relatively recently? Haydn’s gloriously tuneful Creation sprang to new life at the Royal Albert Hall last night in the vocal cords of the 200 singers of the BBC Proms Youth Choir in a heartwarming affirmation of the abundance of new choral talent in this country. Sitting in the audience was our planet guardian-in-chief Sir David Attenborough, and while he might have challenged some of the science, he seemed entirely enchanted by this hymn of praise to the natural world.

The BBC Proms Youth Choir © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
The BBC Proms Youth Choir
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

Meticulous direction, first from the harpsichord and then the fortepiano, came from Omer Meir Wellber, the BBC Philharmonic’s new live-wire chief conductor, who takes up the post this month. He made his Proms debut last week, conducting a newly-energised BBC Phil in a storming performance of Schumann’s Fourth Symphony. Last night he pulled another rabbit out of the hat, this time transforming the orchestra into an authentic 18th-century band.

Gone were the broad sweeping gestures of their Romantic 19th-century sound from last week and in came tangy, vibrato-less strings and crisper, harder-edged woodwind, all beautifully decorated by Meir Wellber at the keyboard. He moved from the harpsichord to the fortepiano in the second half in an innovation that drew directly on the text. We had reached the fifth day of the earth’s creation, so why not reflect this by demonstrating the growth and development of musical technology in Haydn’s time, too?

It was just one of the many imaginative features of this performance, which towards the close featured the soloists speaking their recitatives and breaking from the German into English, to bring us into the here-and-now of modern London. And that great moment at the start of the piece, when the chorus sings mysteriously of God’s spirit moving on the face of the waters before the explosion of sound on the words “Let there be Light” was intensified by having these highly disciplined young singers perform from memory, hurling their voices out into the dark void of the RAH.

Omer Meir Wellber conducts <i>The Creation</i> © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Omer Meir Wellber conducts The Creation
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

The whole piece is a feast of word-painting, as each new wonder appears on the earth. Christoph Pol, as the archangel Raphael, sang thunderously of the creation of the seas before sinuously navigating us along the limpid waters of babbling brooks and serpentine rivers, and soprano Sarah-Jane Brandon, as archangel Gabriel, sang fragrantly of flowers, fruits and herbs as “With verdure clad the fields appear”. But our bucolic reverie was interrupted by a cannon-shot of an entry by the chorus, urging us to “Awake, the harp, the lyre awake! In shout and joy your voices raise!”

Tenor soloist Benjamin Hulett, as archangel Uriel, was suitably radiant for Haydn’s glorious sunrise and the creation of the moon and stars, a celestial introduction to the favourite chorus “The Heavens are Telling”, which was taken at an unusually stately pace and not always entirely in tune, with the tenors attempting valiantly to reach that crucial top A.

Sarah-Jane Brandon © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Sarah-Jane Brandon
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

Lovely chuntering bassoons imitated cooing turtle doves, a dazzling flautist nightingale serenaded us and pizzicato double basses searched the seabed for leviathans before the “tawny lion” and “flexible tiger” sprang from the orchestra and prowled metaphorically around the Hall, accompanied by a single, slithering, lowly worm.

The final part of the piece is taken up entirely with the story of Adam and Eve (sung winningly by Pohl and Brandon), turning it from a Biblical story to a Magic Flute-like extended love duet, with choral interjections, some of them beautifully realised, particularly the pianissimo entries.

The BBC Proms Youth Choir was made up of singers from its own Academy, the Royal Northern College of Music Chorus, University of Birmingham Voices and the University of Manchester Chamber Choir. All praise goes to Simon Halsey, overall choral director, and his colleagues Grace Rossiter, Joe Judge and Lynne Dawson. And a special mention for language coach Norbert Meyn; chorus diction was exemplary throughout.






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