Sydney Town Hall
May 26, 2018

The depiction of the creation of light in Haydn’s The Creation was so striking in its day that it was immediately greeted with applause by audiences, and the blazing fortissimo – an explosion of choral and orchestra force – still retains its power, especially in the hands of Brett Weymark, who led the 350-strong Sydney Philharmonia Choirs and The Metropolitan Orchestra at Sydney’s Town Hall on Saturday.

Haydn’s oratorio – which Sydney Philharmonia Choirs last performed in 2016 with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under the baton of HIP Japanese maestro Masaaki Suzuki – tells the story of creation as described in the book of Genesis, with a liberal dose of Milton’s Paradise Lost thrown in for some colour. Bass Jud Arthur opened proceedings on Saturday – on the heels of Haydn’s harmonically restless The Representation of Chaos – bringing a spacious clarity to his lines as the angel Raphael. He was soon joined by tenor Nicholas Jones as Uriel, following up Haydn’s blaze of light (and the pizzicati the composer was fond of describing as God lighting a match) with a bright, winning tone on the words: “And God saw that it was good.” Rounding out the trio, and making her return to the stage following treatment for cancer, was soprano Taryn Fiebig, whose resplendent sound floated through the Town Hall as Gabriel.

Haydn’s work (performed here in its English version) is full of vivid orchestral painting and unfolds in three parts, the first two covering the six days of creation while the finale depicts Adam and Eve leading all of God’s creatures in thanksgiving – and generally enjoying their prelapsarian bliss – in a text more Milton than Scripture.

The Sydney Philharmonia Choirs’ sound was lush and well-defined – particularly in the joyous closures of each day of creation and the mighty fugues – ably supported by the TMO, and the soloists’ distinct timbres cut across nicely. The Town Hall is a cavernous acoustic, however, and at times the clarity of the text, from both choir and soloists, didn’t make it to the back of the hall. While there were many beautiful moments in the first two parts – the trio work from the soloists was impeccably balanced, and Arthur’s And God Created Great Whales underpinned by the lower strings was wonderfully dark-hued – the real highlight was the final act, with Arthur and real-life partner Fiebig (a costume change saw her in sparkling bridal white) standing in for Adam and Eve. There was a tangible warmth to the pair’s duetting, from their exquisitely shaped phrases to the effervescence of the vocally ping-ponging “with thee” figures.

The orchestra accompanied choir and soloists with panache and while there were a few uneasy moments when winds and strings didn’t feel quite synchronised there were some stunning solos from across the band, particularly Nicola Crowe’s finely shaped flute lines, which reached their apotheosis in the pastoral opening of Part 3 (joined by the two other flutes).

There was much to marvel at in this performance of The Creation, but ultimately it was Taryn Fiebig and Jud Arthur who stole the show, bringing a luminous – and almost saucy – glee to their vocal frolicking in the Garden of Eden that was irresistibly charming and had the audience in raptures.