City Halls, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

five stars

IF this well-attended Sunday afternoon concert seemed a festive occasion on a lovely day, there were plenty of reasons for that. For a performance of The Creation, Joseph Haydn's arguably under-rated response to Handel's biblical oratorio, the BBC Scottish was joined by the Edinburgh Festival Chorus, filling the choir stalls, bass Matthew Rose, tenor James Gilchrist, and young Yorkshire-born soprano Rowan Pierce. Once again Pierce was replacing an indisposed Elizabeth Watts, as she had done in the same hall at the end of February with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Richard Egarr for Mozart's Coronation Mass.

This concert, which will be broadcast a week on Thursday, offered Pierce a more substantial platform and from her opening aria as Gabriel, "With verdure clad", it was clearly an opportunity she was relishing, and the combination of her pure tone with the guest principals on flute (Amina Cunningham) and clarinet (Jean Johnson) was a highlight of the score. That was paralleled later in Matthew Rose's Sixth Day population of the Earth with the animal kingdom in partnership with bass trombone and double bassoon. Every detail of the rich scoring was brought out by conductor Thomas Dausgaard, while there was some lovely continuo playing from cellist Martin Storey and Michael Bawtree on fortepiano.

If the instrumental dynamics of the Creation story, which the libretto culls from the Psalms and Milton as well as Genesis, were in good hands, the choral element was even more striking. The Festival Chorus has surely never sounded better, with the collective breath control in the piece's opening quietness and then the revelation of "the light" the first indication that this would be a special performance. Although only Part One's hymn, "The heavens are telling", has anything like popular currency, here was an eloquent case for a multi-faceted masterwork.