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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Die Schopfung (The Creation), oratorio for solo voices, choir and orchestra, Hob.XXI:2 (1798)
Dorothea Röschmann (Soprano) as Gabriel and Eve
Michael Schade (tenor) as Uriel
Christian Gerhaher (baritone) as Raphael and Adam
Arnold Schoenberg Choir
Concentus Musicus Wien/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Recorded live at the Musikvereinssaal, Vienna, Austria 26-30 March 2003. DDD
DHM DEUTSCHE HARMONIA MUNDI 82876 58340 2 [2 CDs: 38:30+67:42]

Haydn visited London on two occasions in 1791 and 1794 and heard Handel’s oratorio The Messiah which had a powerful impact on him. When Haydn read a German translation of Liddell’s (or Lindley’s) text of The Creation which had been adapted from parts of the Book of Genesis and Milton’s Paradise Lost he was sparked into composing the oratorio. We are told that the sixty-six year old Haydn approached the composition of The Creation with considerable religious fervour and a passion he had rarely displayed until then.

Haydn was nearing the end of his life when he composed The Creation. At a time when his greatest symphonies and finest string quartets were behind him it is certainly a work containing many examples of his creative genius. Through The Creation Haydn was able to give voice to his profound religious feelings. Contained in its pages is some of the noblest music found in the post-Handel oratorio. Eminent music writer David Ewen has described it as "a tone poem (more than half a century before Liszt devised the form) describing chaos being resolved into order, darkness into light."

Period performance specialist, the conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt gives a suitably reverent and expertly shaped performance of The Creation. I particularly enjoyed the lively rhythms and forthright choruses from the Arnold Schoenberg Choir who perform a particularly rousing rendition of the mighty chorus The heavens are telling the glory of God which is undoubtedly one of the scores most celebrated pages.

Maestro Harnoncourt uses three very contrasting soloists, two of whom take on dual-roles. Christian Gerhaher, the prize-winning German baritone, is superbly cast in the parts of Raphael and Adam and in Raphael’s aria Now heaven in fullest glory shone proves rich, brooding and intense. Gerhaher is strong and elegant in another of Raphael’s arias Rolling in foaming billows which shows Haydn’s lyricism of the highest inspiration.

In Gabriel’s aria the pastoral With verdure clad the fields appear, which is one of the most celebrated arias in oratorio literature the German soprano Dorothea Röschmann gives a suitably expressive and stately account. Uriel’s aria In native worth and honour clad glows splendidly with superb singing and a strong sense of drama from Michael Schade the Swiss tenor, raised in Germany and now living in Canada. Perhaps the highlight of the release is Adam and Eve’s beautiful and heart-rending love duet, By thee with bliss, O bounteous Lord which is sung by Gerhaher and Röschmann with tenderness and consummate passion.

Maestro Harnoncourt’s scrupulous interpretation has precision and vitality in a most persuasive account. There is almost an air of taking the proceedings too seriously with a deficit of the highest level of passion which just prevents the recording becoming a ‘classic’. The recorded sound is clear and well-balanced and the booklet includes full texts.

Harnoncourt admirer’s will be in their element with this release. A very fine performance of one of Haydn’s true masterworks.

Michael Cookson

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