Back-to-back performances of The Creation are rare in North Carolina, but I did have the pleasure of reviewing another version of this work just five weeks prior to this May 7 performance by the Concert Choir of Salisbury in First United Methodist Church. I will keep firmly in mind as I write that comparisons are odious. I beg your forgiveness if I lapse.
This year, Salisbury's Concert Choir is celebrating its 30th anniversary of "performing choral music for the spiritual experience, cultural development and enjoyment of the community and the choir members." Music Director Adam M. Ward could not have chosen a more festive way to celebrate that anniversary. The Creation has plenty of challenge without being a brute to the chorus; it is full of lovely music and (had there but been a libretto) quite accessible.
As I mentioned in that earlier review, a publication of The Creation in both German and English was planned. Then Van Swieten, the publisher, appears to have lost heart, and the English was never finished.
The Salisbury performance was in English. Given a program with a full blank page and what looked like a further page and a half of unsold ad space, the absence of a libretto was conspicuous. Much of the audience was working without a net in coming to this performance. No libretto meant that most of them didn't have a lot of guidance about such important matters as intermission. After the glorious "Heavens Are Telling," many of them were fulfilled and expected that to have been the end. Then after the masterful Amen at the real end, many of them, having been fooled once, were not going to let it happen again and sat tight for a long while, waiting to see if there were to be more....
The performance was largely along 20th-century symphonic lines. The reduction of the orchestral forces from Haydn's original big orchestra of perhaps 100 to Ward's of 28 was just right with the 36 singers. Without getting into quibbles about performance practice, a harpsichord would have cleaned up the sound better than the organ.
After a very nicely balanced opening, Tim Cook, singing Raphael, set a high standard for the concert that was largely maintained throughout. The entrance of Uriel, with the recitative and aria sung by Jonathan Blalock, provided a nice change of timbre as well as pitch, and followed well on Cook's performance. The strings were commendable for their lightness in Raphael's aria "And God made the firmament." Kim Lance made her appearance with lovely singing in "What wonder doth his work reveal." She filled the church nicely without yelling and balanced nicely with the chorus.
It is most reasonable to re-assign roles in a performance like this. Following such a plan, Rose Julian sang "And God said..." and "Now robed in cool..." if not with complete mastery, with satisfaction all the same. Mari Maristany gave us the little recitative "And the heavenly host...."
Ward's choir was exemplary in the choruses throughout, with good diction and balance. This was especially the case in a rather brisk "Awake the harp." Ward and chorus made it sound perfectly natural that ladies and gentlemen in concert dress should throw back their heads in Piedmont North Carolina (or anywhere else) and burst into fugue!
"And God said.../In shining splendor" was sung with perhaps more uncontrolled vibrato than I would have cared for, but definitely acceptably, by Linda Tutterow. Ward made up a very equal trio for "The Heaven's..." consisting of Beth Yelvington, Maristany, and Ed Lutz. They were strong enough to stand up to the chorus and delicate in their solos. Having come to this from the Charlotte performance, with its worldly audience and champagne in the interval, I was still a little disappointed at the stolid reception offered at the end of Part I. Even without a libretto, this was pretty obviously intermission time.
Ward began Part II with "And the angels" sung by Lutz, avoiding a couple of lovely but potentially problematic arias, the "eagle/turtledove" and the "whales." In "In fairest raiment...," I drew a circle around the fermata phrase ten measures from the end and simply made several exclamation marks by it. This was nice. By this time, it seemed that the strings must have been getting tired; their intonation began to slip a little. There are certainly ample notes in The Creation to exhaust one.
Jerry Cochran* sang very nicely, supported by Lance and Blalock, in "The Lord Is Great." There was a cut at this point, excising "Straight opening her fertile womb" and "Now heaven in fullest glory shown," cutting right to the chase with "And God created man," sung by Vivian Mulkey, followed by Ann Dandison singing, "In native worth." Yelvington, Maristany, and Gordon Senter made up a very balanced trio singing "From Thee O Lord" to lead into the big chorus ending Part II, "Fulfilled at last." The chorus took this well in stride, with no sign of fatigue. They sang convincingly, as if they were enjoying themselves and just did this naturally, without a lot of rehearsal, the ultimate compliment to a choral conductor. Kelly McCarthy provided the recitative that led into the final chorus, "Sing to God," which the chorus handled with its usual aplomb. Now we can say, with the librettist, "Fulfilled at last the glorious work," with a round of well-deserved applause to all.
*Known to CVNC readers as W. Gerald Cochran....