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Kaija Saariaho & Haydn
Philharmonia at Royal Festival Hall, London, 7 June 2005

KAIJA SAARIAHO Terrestre (2002 - UK première) Lichtbogen (1986)
Mario Caroli flute
Andre de Ridder/conductor

HAYDN Die Schöpfung
Ruth Ziesak soprano
Helge Rønning tenor
Christian Gerhaher baritone
Philharmonia Voices/András Schiff conductor

Haydn's The Creation was inspired by hearing Handel's oratorios in London, and he showed the libretto which he had brought back home to Baron van Swieten, who translated it in Vienna into German, in which form it was given in 1798. This offended the London impressario Salomon, who had expected the world premiere, and there were threats of legal action. The work has survived in both languages and is a staple of the choral repertoire here and in mainland Europe.

None of the gloom and warnings of hell-fire with questionable reassurance as in Bach's cantatas, Die Schöpfung wove its spell once again, sending the audience out smiling with contentment, sure that all started right with God's world, even though we've let him down badly since then.

I have enjoyed it abroad several times in recent years - Rotterdam (Rattle), Lucerne (Pinnock) - and never tired of its charming naivety; here, in German for once, we had Christian Gerhaher authoratively beginning Part Two by describing the animals as they are created and each depicted by the orchestra. Later as Adam duetting with Eve before the Fall (Ruth Ziesak, slender and very tall, phrasing her lovely music ecstatically). Helge Rønning a fine, open voiced tenor, the three soloists perfectly matched and never needing to force their voices under András Schiff's benign guidance. His an undogmatic approach, strings mainly non-vibrato (one cellist couldn't manage that!); natural horns, valveless trumpets, hard timpani sticks - otherwise the Philharmonia's usual instruments. With a fine, alert fresh-voiced professional choir of about 40 young singers, it all worked well in the Festival Hall (very soon closing for thorough renovation).

A pity that more of the audience hadn't risked the free concert beforehand given by a section of the Philharmonia, with André de Ridder standing in for the advertised Ilan Volkov, and Mario Caroli for Emily Beynon. They'd surely have enjoyed the novelty of Kaija Saariaho's always beautiful music. Lichtbogen with its discreet electronic enhancement, which enchanted me twenty years ago when she was a new name, was preceded by Terrestre (a variant reduction of the second movement of her flute concerto) in which Mario Caroli, supported by exotic sounds drawn from a chamber group of two strings, piano and percussion, choreographed himself to depict 'a virtuoso dancing bird'. His consummate virtuosity encompassed simultaneous vocalising and he drew all eyes to his lunges, crouching low, springing up off the ground, even kicking one foot in the air whilst standing on the other, his flute sounding magical in the Festival Hall the while. Let's hope that Caroli will be invited back (by the London Sinfonietta perhaps?) to give in London the original two-movement concerto Wing of Dream.

© Peter Grahame Woolf