Thursday, 29 December 2011

Creation! Laurence Blyth and Exeter Choral Society Saint James' Church Exeter Wednesday 7 December

Prodigious music maker - Laurence Blyth with the Exeter Choral Society

Only four days after his very moving production of Dido and Aeneas with the Wellington Choral Society (details) Exeter Cathedral Lay Vicar, Laurence Blyth was back in action again. Laurence is the Music Director of Wellington Choral Society, and also the Musical Director of both the Exeter And Exmouth Choral Societies. On Wednesday 7th December, at St James' Church in Exeter, came the chance for Exeter Choral Society to shine.

Exeter Choral Society Choir

Our host -
St James' Church
Rev Henry Pryse
Exeter Choral Society
Christopher Helyer

The Samaritans
Deputy Director
Mark Ashley

Each singer sported a large red rose for a special benefit concert in aid of Exeter Samaritans:
Joseph Haydn's oratorio 'Die Schöpfung' ('Creation').

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Painting by Johann Zitterer 1795

'Creation has a very English heritage. Haydn came to England in the early 1790s and was greatly impressed by the biblical oratorios of George Frederic Handel - especially 'Israel in Egypt' composed fifty years earlier. Haydn was determined to create something equally magnificent. Back in Vienna he worked continuously for three years, praying daily for the strength to complete his mission.

The première was a sensation. Crowds gathered outside the Schwarzenberg Palace where the rich patrons of the arts enjoyed an invitation-only performance. The planned public performance for the following year was an instant sell-out. As the nineteenth century dawned, Haydn's great masterpiece was performed throughout Austria, Germany, Italy, Spain Sweden, Russia, USA and - in English translation - at Covent Garden in London. Eight years later the elderly and frail Joseph Haydn was carried into the theatre in an armchair to hear his masterpiece one last time. It has remained a hugely popular classic ever since.

Organist David Davies
Pianist - Gwen Martin
There was no orchestra for this performance. The accompaniment was provided by Exeter Cathedral Assistant Director of Music, David Davies - playing a somewhat recalcitrant organ. Hidden away in his organ console, David relied on a video link to be able to see Laurence conducting the choir from the rostrum. Additional piano accompaniment was provided by a well-known local pianist - Gwen Martin (pianist with the 'Sidmouth Cameo Singers'). Wonderful instrumental work by both.

. . . and the world was without form and void . . .
wonderfully expressive bass solo by John Hobbs
" . . . with sinuous trace
     - the worm! "

The big moment came with the opening passage of Genesis, sung in a resonant bass voice by local soloist John Hobbs as the Angel Raphael. John has performed 'Creation' regularly over the years and knows how to pronounce each line with maximum expression.

A very moving performance.

Later, as he recounts the creation of the animals, the words are taken from book VII of John Milton's epic poem 'Paradise Lost' from 1667. The most extraordinary and memorable is saved until last - "In long dimension creeps - with sinuous trace - the worm!"

" . . . and God saw the light, that it was good . . . "
A highly polished tenor performance by David Webb
Following the explosive line "Let there be light!" from the choir, the equally impressive voice of tenor David Webb took up the tale - as the Angel Uriel. "God saw the light, that it was good." Then followed a delightful paraphrase of Milton's Paradise lost, "Now vanish before the holy beams the gloomy dismal shades of dark." Very different from the original, but equally affecting.

" . . . the marvellous work . . . "
An incredibly talented and glamorous soprano - Harriet Jones
in her trademark ermine cape
Only one thing was missing - the Angel Gabriel. A truly angelic performance was provided by soprano Harriet Jones. As the choir continued the glorious reworking of Milton, Harriet's voice joined them magically with, "The marvellous work beholds amazed the glorious hierarchy of heaven!"

After singing very little in the opening passages, Harriet took centre stage with Gabriel's air: "With verdure clad the fields appear delightful to the ravished sense." More Milton, more glorious lyrics!

" . . . revivéd earth unfolds new force and new delights . . . "
Beautiful three voice harmony
Each magnificent chorus was followed by a yet another beautiful aria. Genesis, Psalms, and endless quotes from Milton - exquisite poetry, extraordinary music and heavenly voices. Then in part two - the trio! Those three solo voices, so entrancing separately, joined in joyous harmony - a marvellous sound.

"Thou lettest thy breath go forth again, and life with vigour fresh return." Raphael, Uriel and Gabriel give one last celebratory anthem to the world's 'new delights', before the choir end the piece with a chorus of praise to the creator, "He sole on high exalted reigns, Alleluia!"

The final line was met with thunderous applause. A magnificent performance by all concerned. And for Laurence Blyth - Purcell and Haydn in the same week. Amazing!

Extremely well received
Laurence welcomes the organist
onto the stage at last - David Davies

Roses for an extraordinary soprano soloist
A little something for the conductor

Another photographer, with a different viewpoint:
Laurence Blyth conducting the Exeter Choral Society choir.
(Photography: John Spivey -
- see his full set of photographs at

What's next for Laurence Blyth?

- The Saint John Passion!

"Herr, unser Herrscher, dessen Ruhm in allen Landen herrlich ist!" ("Lord, our master, your reputation is exalted in all lands!") - the greatest opening line of any oratorio - will ring out in the Church of Holy Trinity in Exmouth on Saturday 4th February 2012. Laurence will direct the Exmouth Choral Society choir and Brenda Willoughby's Divertimento Orchestra, David Webb will return as 'Evangelist', and the part of Jesus will be sung by a great Exeter bass soloist - Julian Rippon!

Exmouth Choral Society
& Divertimento Orchestra
Holy Trinity Church Exmouth
Saturday 4 February 7.30pm
Conductor: Laurence Blyth
Evangelist: David Webb
Jesus: Julian Rippon
Tickets: £10 (U18 free)
Available in advance from 'Premiere'
(Rolle Street Exmouth) 01395 263137

Don't forget that the performance of Haydn's 'Creation' was given in aid of Exeter Samaritans. The Samaritans are familiar as the charity which provides support and counselling for people who are desperate and suicidal - a vital service.

To donate money to support the charity,
or to find out how to help in other ways,
please look at the Samaritans website (link).

If you need the help of a Samaritans counsellor - phone 01392 411711 at any time.

You can also visit their branch office: 10 Richmond Road, Exeter
(opposite St David's Community Centre)
10.30am - 9.30pm Monday - Saturday & 1.30 - 9.30pm on Sunday

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