Only singers impress in performance of Haydn's great oratorio

Gala Concert - The Creation

Singapore Symphony Orchestra

Victoria Concert Hall/Saturday

Seven days seems a pretty tall order for the creation of a fully ordered world from the chaos of dark matter. Yet this performance of Haydn's great oratorio seemed to be working to an even tighter deadline, possibly with a penalty clause for every minute it overran the advertised 109 minutes.

The big choruses were taken at breakneck speed, the arias often hurried along breathlessly, the recitatives pressed on urgently and the individual numbers telescoped together so tightly that when, at the end of the first part, the audience tried to applaud, they were thwarted by a precipitous dash into the second.

Lim Yau could adopt such manic speeds safe in the knowledge that he had drilled his choral forces to a degree of near-perfection. The combined voices of the Singapore Symphony Chorus and the Nafa Chamber Choir did everything asked of them, and much more besides. Technical things such as intonation, balance, blend, ensemble were exquisite, their choreography (standing up and sitting down and holding the music) pretty near flawless and their diction immaculate. It needed to be; inexplicably, the work was sung in German.

The trio of soloists were less sure-footed, although baritone Kresimir Strazanac was outstanding. In the first two parts, he was suitably magisterial as the angel Raphael relating the creation process with a tremendously communicative delivery. In the third part, transformed into a man (Adam), he oozed masculine charm and graciousness, prompting from soprano Larissa Krokhina (in the role of his wife Eve) an opulence of tone and a purity of pitch only hinted at in the first two parts where, as the angel Gabriel, she had struggled with her florid runs and been forced to cut a few corners.

Tenor Martin Nyvall certainly possesses a very strong voice and has a fine command of diction, but as the angel Uriel he seemed under a lot of pressure and did not always keep his pitch under control. That said, he did open the third part with a beautifully evocative portrayal of the sun rising on the dawn of mankind.

It was the orchestra that struggled most with the relentless forward push. The continuo duo of Shane Thio and Ng Pei-Sian stumbled a couple of times but otherwise strode along solidly, while members of the wind section mostly just managed to keep control. But it was the violins who all too frequently descended into chaos. Having begun the work with a neat "Representation of Chaos", they then took chaos to heart and spent the rest of the work scrambling around with some pretty dismal attempts at collective cohesion.

It may have met its self-imposed deadline with two minutes to spare, but this Creation produced a really impressive result from only its supremely capable choral forces.