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HAYDN’S CREATION, Tranchell, The Cambridge Review, 1st February 1958

Clare College Musical Society; Guildhall, January 26

Crimes and contretemps are the stock-in-trade of newspapers. Similarly, the disasters of a College Society concert are its most memorable and entertaining features. The thoughtful conductor will arrange for a goodly assortment of ruses for heightening the audience’s attention and for putting the players on the qui vive.

A liberal supply of squashed flies pressed to the pages of the band parts is a sine qua non; while two pages carefully gummed together will bring a player to a stunned silence long before his fellows have ceased their strummings, and his reactions may be as fascinating to perceive as the notes he has omitted. A double ration of “Bubblo” for the horns is to be recommended, and other minor forms of surreptitious sabotage carried out between dress-rehearsal and performance are very valuable: a well-placed cipher in the organ or the total removal of a vital pipe, the privy purloining of the trumpeter’s spectacles, one glass of wine too many for the leader, a specially collapsible music-stand for the first cellists, a deft chisel-stroke administered to woodwind-reeds, and sneezing-powder adroitly dusted into and onto all unwary violins. These are excellent gambits and not to be missed. And much fun may be had if the Secretary re-arranges the order of the programme without telling the Conductor. Many works only become tolerable when staged in this imaginative way, and there is not a piano concerto that cannot be enhanced by the collapse of the soloist’s stool or the opportune falling of the piano lid.

The rendering of Haydn’s Creation by the Clare College Musical Society last Sunday afternoon in the Guildhall was most sparing in its sideshows. Admittedly some of the audience had been put under the impression that striking-up time was 2.45 rather than 2.30, and thus arrived in the middle of one of the many recitatives that were drowned by the organ. But the trivial defects of the performance itself could be traced to improvidence, and not (alas) to a happy and wilful sense of humour.

If rehearsal time could not provide for attention to minutiae, it would have been wise to concentrate at least on the points where untidiness would most show—beginnings, changes of tempo, chorus entries, final consonants, and the like. The back bedroom may have been thoroughly dusted, but the front doorstep, if unscrubbed, will become a stumbling-block, and the neighbours turn into would-be sanitary inspectors. There were moments when the heart was jerked mouthward or bootward by a too obvious faux pas, and a muddle seemed resolved more by the timely prompting of the Almighty (albeit on a day of Divine rest) than by human vigilance.

Nevertheless it was a pleasant afternoon. The orchestra played pretty well (even if sforzandos and pianissimos tended to merge in an equal mezzoforte), and, what is most impressive, remained in tune with the organ from start to finish, an unusual feat. The chorus sang with spirit, though the spirit waned a little in mid-work. The soloists, Christian Hunter, Timothy Lewis Lloyd and Wilfred Brown were excellent, their timbre and diction most pleasing, and no sign given that they were inconvenienced by the many tempi to which they must have been unaccustomed. Miss Hunter tended to prefer the underside of a note, while Mr Lloyd seemed diffident in his lowest register; but then a Cambridge Sunday afternoon is well-known for its melancholic effects. Mr Brown showed himself far and away the star of the occasion, and his sensitive musicianship was in a full measure proved by the effortless and artistic way in which he could skip half a bar to re-establish unanimity with an erring accompaniment, as if it were all in the day’s work.

It is the malaise of our age to applaud ambitious efforts whether they be crowned with success or not. We say a thing worth doing well is worth doing badly. Clare College Musical Society did well, but they certainly can do better. Without doubt the honours of the afternoon went to Haydn. One would conclude that canaries must beware of becoming peacocks which please men best not by their song but by showing their tails.

Peter Tranchell