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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


BARGAIN OF THE MONTH

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Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732 – 1809)
Die Schöpfung (The Creation)

Sunhae Im (soprano) – Gabriel, Eva); Jan Kobow (tenor) – Uriel; Hanno Müller-Brachmann (bass) – Raphael, Adam; Christine Wehler (alto)
VokalEnsemble Köln/Max Ciolek; Capella Augustina/Andreas Spering
Recorded by Deutschlandfunk, Sendesaal, Köln, July 2003. DDD SACD
NAXOS 6.110073-74 [55:09 + 49:13]
also available as CD 8.557380-81

 


From the very first chord one feels that this recording is something special. The sound is crisp, well-balanced and detailed without being over-analytical. There is space around the instruments and – later – the chorus but at the same time takes account of the cathedral acoustic that would otherwise smothers out details and smudge words. The soloists are also well in the picture, never swamped by orchestra and chorus. To my ears engineer Ingeborg Kiepert and producer Wolfgang Mitlehner have done a superb job.

The orchestra play period instruments and is not very big: twelve violins, four violas, three cellos and two double basses plus the prescribed wind instruments and timpani. For the short recitatives a fortepiano is used, which also lends authenticity to the performance. It is not a small-scale performance though. Conductor Andreas Spering wrings the most from the fortes while at the same time preserving clarity. He is also masterful when it comes to hushing the orchestra to chamber music dimensions. All this is evident in the remarkable prelude, representing chaos. After more than 200 years this music still sounds surprisingly modern; even more so when played on period instruments. Spering sustains the tension throughout the 6½ minutes and continues to do so until the end of the oratorio. In many places one has a feeling that it is a very swift performance but comparing it with a big-band version such as Levine’s (DG) the differences are small, whether one looks at the individual numbers or the overall timing. Levine needs a little more than six minutes extra to reach Amen! That some of the arias seem to be much faster is more a question of the more springy rhythms and of more "air" between notes. I can imagine that Spering, considering the somewhat naive libretto, sees the whole work from a child’s perspective. The child is listening to this amazing story for the first time and with mouth wide open enthralled by the fairy-tale descriptions of the proceedings, shivering when the storms rage and bluster and crouching when the lightning cleaves the air and the timpani lets the fearful thunder roll on every side (CD 1 track 4). Spering makes the most of all this word-painting without going to extremes, and the child is of course eager to get to know how it all ends.

The VokalEnsemble Köln has made for itself quite a name during the last few years (it was founded as recently as 1997) and, just like the orchestra, they are constantly on their toes. Their first entrance, after Gabriel’s Im Anfange schuf Gott Himmel und Erde, (CD1 track 2) is wonderfully hushed and then they explode – together with the orchestra – on the words Und es war LICHT! The lively chorus following Uriel’s first aria (CD1 track 3) is sung with great precision and the big choruses concluding each part of the oratorio are magnificently done. There is such vitality. This is indeed choral singing on the highest possible level.

And the soloists? Well, the most well-known of them, bass baritone Hanno Müller-Brachmann, who carries the heaviest burden, does wonderful things. He is not ideally steady of voice in all places and this is noticeable at his first entrance on Im Anfange schuf Gott ... (CD1 track 2). However he treats the text with the care for meaning of a Lieder-singer (and he is indeed a Lieder-singer – his volume in Naxos’s Schubert cycle is impressive and indeed he was a pupil of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Here he delivers the first lines at a ravishing pianissimo. He then shows his dramatic capacity in the recitative Und Gott machte das Firmament, where the line Da tobten brausend heftige Stürme is sung in great operatic style. All through the performance he admirably adjusts his voice colour to the text. His voice may not be as sonorous and beautiful as some – Heinz Rehfuss on my old Concert Hall recording from 1960 and Kurt Moll on the aforementioned Levine version have more magnificent instruments. However in his own right he is well suited to the part.

Tenor Jan Kobow has a light, warm, agile and beautiful voice that seems the ideal match for Uriel’s music. He also sings with great attention to dynamics. His first aria Nun schwanden vor dem heiligen Strahle (CD1 track 3) is a good example. And in part II, the recitative Und Gott schuf den Menschen (CD2 track 4) is sensitively done, as is the following aria Mit würd’ und Hoheit angetan, even if one could have wished for just a notch more power.

The young South Korean soprano Sunhae Im is even better. She too has a light voice, glittering and with an elegant trill. There is something of Emma Kirkby’s purity about her singing even if she has a more prominent vibrato, very beautiful and personal and used with discrimination. Sometimes she sings with an absolutely straight Kirkby-ish tone and then gradually lets the vibrato protrude. Tracks 5, 9 and especially 16 (all on CD1) demonstrate this lovely singing. Auf starkem Fittiche (tr 16) is indeed masterly.

The booklet has some paragraphs about Haydn and a good synopsis by Keith Anderson. The sung texts can be downloaded as PDF files from naxos.com, which can be a little inconvenient for some listeners, but don’t let that deter you from acquiring this wonderful set: premium quality at super-budged price! Strongly recommended.

Göran Forsling



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