Review by David Richards
Last night, the near capacity audience at Koerner Hall stepped out of the reality of today’s world of global waste and desecration to celebrate the wonders of life on this planet. The Creation, an opera-like oratorio by Franz Josef Haydn, was written at a time when the Genesis story was unquestioned. Nevertheless, in 2016, it inspired the audience to consider the “six day” evolution from the chaos of nothingness to our glorious world minus the industrial pollution, human tragedies, and global warfare. Photo courtesy of Frank Nagy
So it was that the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir (TMC) created an evening of spectacular bliss.
Conductor Noel Edison has lived with Haydn’s masterpiece for the better part of his adult life. He has performed it with his Elora Festival Singers at the Elora Festival, but only once with TMC some 8 years ago. He successfully highlighted the drama and humour in the work with uplifting results.
Edison created a symphonic sound of magnificent proportions with the 135 voice choir and the Festival Orchestra. The choir and orchestra owe a great deal to the Elora Festival. The Elora Festival Singers form the core of the choir and the Festival Orchestra is one that Edison has hand-picked and used consistently in Elora Festival performances for many years. The orchestra filled the hall with expressive playing and a magnificent sound that complimented the choir beautifully. The winds in particular were spectacular.
The three soloists are singers gaining solid reputations in opera and oratorio. Together, they had the bulk of the work in telling the biblical story. Zach Finkelstein, tenor, as archangel ‘Uriel’, displayed a lyric tenor sound that was warm and smooth in his recitatives. Finkelstein’s musicianship sparkled in the beautiful lines of his aria in Part II. Soprano Leslie Ann Bradley, who had the double role of ‘Gabriel’ and later ‘Eve’, sang with dexterity and power in her bel canto arias. Her voice had a dramatic quality that was perfect for her roles in the story telling. Alexander Hajek, baritone, also performed two roles: ‘Rafael’ and ‘Adam’. Hajek’s role was perhaps the most demanding in terms of both range and dramatic effects. He stopped the show with the humour he displayed in describing the “bleating flocks”, “insects” and “worms”, reaching down to a low “D” for the final note of the recitative.
In the end it was the choir itself which stole the show – TMC was in top form. The power of this wonderful choir reminded us of some of the great choruses from Messiah. The fugal lines were sung with strength and clarity. I had goosebumps from the final tutti chord of the line “And God said: Let there be light. And there was Light.”
The Creation is a composition that is ideally suited to the TMC. The work’s large dramatic choruses gave the choir the opportunity to display its lush symphonic sound. The audience came to hear the choir and went home completely satisfied. Judging by the cheers and standing ovation, it is to be hoped that Toronto audiences will soon have another opportunity to hear this great oratorio.