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Franz Josef HAYDN (1732-1809)
Die Schöpfung (The Creation) (1798)
An Oratorio in three parts for Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra
Teresa Seidl, soprano (Gabriel, Eva)
Algirdas Janutas, tenor (Uriel)
Benno Schollum, bass (Rafael, Adam)
Kaunas State Choir
Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra/Yehudi Menuhin
Recorded live at the Rheingau Music Festival, 11 July 1998. [DDD]
WARNER APEX 2564 60714-2 [55:44 + 48:19]


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When at the age of sixty-three Haydn ended his service to the Esterházy family, he could have retired a wealthy and happy man. He had, however, a good deal of creative energy left, and his tours to England, sponsored by the impresario Salomon brought him even more international fame. While in London, he attended a festival of Handel’s oratorios in Westminster Abbey. The august composer was both impressed and overwhelmed, both by the quality of Handel’s work, and by the enormous popularity of choral/orchestral works set in the vernacular.

Salomon persuaded Haydn to attempt an oratorio of his own, based on a libretto drawn from Milton’s Paradise Lost. With the help of Baron von Swieten, he proceeded, beginning work on The Creation in 1794, but not completing it until four years hence. The first performance was a triumph for Haydn, undoubtedly the biggest success of his already highly successful career. Although the concert was private, such was the buzz on the streets that police guards had to hold back crowds at the hall where the work was first heard. The general public would have to wait another year before they were able to hear the fabled work.

This live performance is a bit of a mixed bag, not altogether successful but by no means unworthy. On the whole, the chorus delivers a taut, well-sung and thankfully not over-blown rendition. It is only in the more melismatic passages that the choir experiences difficulty, and the lines become a blur for lack of steady, clear articulation. There are also times when the tenors in particular sing with a strident and bleak tone, spoiling an otherwise very satisfactory choral blend.

Menuhin’s tempo choices are inconsistent in their appropriateness, taking such well-known passages as "The Heavens are Telling" a bit on the slow side and presenting "Achieved is the Glorious Work" at such a pace as to render its grandeur moot. On the other hand, he manages to set the soprano aria "With Verdure Clad" at a spot-on tempo, giving it the elegance and grace that many a slower performance lacks. The Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra plays with a fine tone and excellent articulation and intonation. The opening "Representation of Chaos" sadly named in the booklet as merely "Orchestral Introduction" is splendid, with all of the interesting dissonances (thought of as revolutionary in their day) given ample time to both bloom and bewilder.

The soloists are a mixed bag as well, with basso Benno Schollum taking top honors for his clarity of tone and warm, resonant production. The very lowest notes are a bit of a struggle for him, but he still manages a highly polished performance. Soprano Teresa Seidl is too prone to scooping and sliding, and I found that her tone lacked a solid core. She was particularly unconvincing in high, florid passages, which tended to be a wash of bright high sound. Tenor Algirdas Janutas has a fine warm voice, but I was incessantly annoyed by his habit of making German words ending in ‘ch’ (dich, mich) sound as though they were spelled with an English ‘sh’ (thus making them dish and mish.)

For comparison, check out Robert Shaw’s excellent Telarc recording (in English) or Franz Brüggen’s live recording with the Orchestra of the 18th Century on Philips.

Program notes are adequate if short on analysis of the score, and the sound quality is quite acceptable. For the price, a worthy find, but by no means a desert island choice.

Kevin Sutton

see alternative German language version

Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809) Die Schöpfung (1798) Edita Gruberova, soprano - Gabriel, Eva Josef Protschka, tenor - Uriel Robert Holl, bass - Raphael, Adam Arnold Schoenberg Chor Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Nikolaus Harnoncourt Konzerthaus, Vienna 10/11 April 1986 WARNER APEX 2564 61593-2 [58.54 + 56.04]


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