Friends of the decanter who have been paying attention to Robbo’s jawing on the subject will be aware that the Middle Gel’s professional choral concert debut took place down the National Cathedral this past Saturday evening with a performance of Haydn’s oratorio “The Creation.”   (I hadn’t picked up on this before, but September 29 is the anniversary of the laying of the first stone of the Cathedral in 1907.  This explains the choice of programming.)  For those of you wondering how it went, I can only say that it was triumphal.

The piece was performed by three soloists – soprano, tenor and baritone, a period instrument orchestra numbering no more than thirty musicians, and the full boys’ and girls’ choirs which, with their accompanying men, totaled somewhere in the neighborhood of maybe seventy voices.   The performers were all on a platform right at the intersection of the nave and the transept.   Self and Mrs. R were seated about four rows back from the edge of the stage, and could see the gel in the front rank of the choir, only sometimes blocked by one of the second violins in our line of sight.   I must say that when the choir was going at full throttle in the choruses and I could see the gel trilling away with the best of them, backdropped by the stone pillars and arches, surrounded by a sea of purple robes and with the instrumentalists all spread out in front of her, so very much at the heart of that great sound that came rolling off the platform, well, I was quite overwhelmed.

And it was a lovely sound, too.  I’d never heard the Creation all the way through before.  Unlike some people who no doubt know better than me and consider the work to be Haydn’s masterpiece, I wouldn’t say it’s one of the greatest choral pieces simply because I don’t think Papa was at his very best when writing for voice.  (He got the idea to try an oratorio after visiting London and being exposed to Handel’s work.  Papa had his strong suits, but he couldn’t compare with ol’ Georg Friderick in this department, in my humble opinion.)   But it was Papa nonetheless, which means that it was witty, intelligent, spirited and, especially in those passages dedicated specifically to the glorification of God, sublime.

The piece is in three sections.  The first depicts the coming of Order from Chaos and the beginning of the world up through the creation of the Sun and the stars.  The second part is a depiction of the forming of the seas, the mountains and the various plant and animal life and, finally, Man.  I found myself particularly moved by the third part, which is an extended duet between Adam and Eve in which they sing of their love for each other and their duty to God, with the chorus dancing in and out of the dialogue in a delightful way.  The duet was quite lyrical and made me wonder if the old boy, in composing it, kept asking himself “What would Mozart do?”  Significantly, this was Adam and Eve before the Fall, so Haydn was literally writing about Paradise.  The only foreshadowing of trouble came in a recitative by the angel Uriel just before the choral finale, in which he warns the pair that they can remain as happy as they are so long as they don’t get greedy for more than they have or seek to know more than they ought to.  Indeed.  Haydn, a devoutly religious man himself, no doubt very much meant it.  I couldn’t help wondering how many of my fellow audience members paused to reflect on this hint of the Fall.

The performance was awfully good almost all the way around.  (My only criticism might have been for the soprano, who had a nice, clear bel canto voice, but insisted on adding a lot of vibrato to it.  No likey vibrato.  The tenor, on the other hand, was absolutely first rate.)  I had not known it before reading the biographical notes in the program, but the Canon in charge of the gel’s musick has himself sung with the Monteverdi Choir, the vocal arm of Sir John Eliot Full of Himself Gardiner’s English Baroque Soloists outfit.  In other words, the fellah is major league.

Let me pause here, by the bye,  and add a serious, well, clarification.  On the one hand, I enjoy posting about the gel’s musickal exploits for reasons that ought to be clear to anyone who has spent any amount of time here lingering over the decanter.  On the other, I’m a bit hesitant about it because I fear being taken for sticking on side or showing off or pretentiousness or otherwise sounding like one of the Beautiful People.   I would ask that you never mistake any of these posts that way.  To the extent that pride plays any part in my postings, it’s all pride in the talent and hard work of the gel that have won her the opportunity to participate in such a program, nicely leavened with gratitude and humility on my part about being able to help her to it.   I’ve no doubt that as she goes forward I will be writing about her adventures a great deal from time to time, but I never want to come across as offensive about it.

So that’s that.

And speaking of the gel, I begin to realize how much of a pro she’s actually becoming.  To wit:

– She remarked to me after one of the dress rehearsals about what an awful lot of time the choir spends just sitting around while the soloists are doing their stuff.

– Nonetheless, when I asked her something about a particular solo passage, she said, “Oh, I wasn’t paying attention.  I was just waiting for my cue.”

– She disclosed to me this morning that she realized about halfway through the second section that she’d left her iWhateveritis on in her pocket.  Suddenly terrified that she’d get a call or message from one of her friends in media res, she surreptitiously got her hand under her robe and, poker-faced, managed to find the off button.

Anyhoo, at the conclusion of the performance we all leaped to our feet, which I suppose at least the parents in the audience would have done anyway, but in this case we meant it.   The performers took three or four curtain-call equivalents, and the good-will between them and the audience was quite palpable.  All in all, a most satisfactory conclusion to all the hard work the gel has been putting in these past weeks.

And now?  Time to start rehearsing Christmas musick!

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