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Joseph HAYDN (1732–1809)
Die Schöpfung (1798)
Miah Persson (soprano) – Gabriel, Eva; Topi Lehtipuu (tenor) – Uriel; David Wilson-Johnson (baritone) – Raphael, Adam
Salzburger Bachchor
Mozarteum Orchester, Salzburg/Ivor Bolton
rec. live, 20–22 October 2005, Salzburg Mozarteum, Grosser Saal
OEHMS CLASSICS OC609 [52:20 + 45:53]

Two years ago I reviewed another SACD issue of Die Schöpfung (Naxos 8.6110073/74) and I found it highly satisfying. I included it as one of my “Recordings of the Year”. Conducted by Andreas Spering with the crisp VokalEnsemble Köln, the even crisper Capella Augustina on period instruments and three excellent soloists, that super-budget version on Naxos can still be whole-heartedly recommended; except to the most period-performance hostile.
Now here comes this live recording from Salzburg. Good it is too - only to be expected with Ivor Bolton at the helm. The brass section plays on natural instruments but as far as I can tell the strings are modern and we hear a slightly larger body than Spering’s ensemble. The Bachchor appear to be larger in number than Spering’s VokalEnsemble. Singing and playing are expert, tempos mainly swift and rhythms vivacious. Overall timings show that Bolton is even faster than Spering: CD1 takes 52:20 as against 55:09 and CD2 45:53 against 49:13. The big choruses are powerful. Vollendet ist das grosse Werk, concluding part 2, is sung with a stirring swagger. Recitatives are accompanied by a fortepiano as on the Spering version, so there are several points in common. The greatest difference lies in the crisper, more “baroque” and therefore paradoxically more “modern” phrasing by Spering. Bolton is slightly closer to the 19th century, which was only two years away when the work was premiered. As I have pointed out before: most music can stand several interpretative approaches, as long as they are performed with conviction. I will live happily with both these versions but retaining a special liking for the Spering. It is what I called in the review his seeing “the whole work from a child’s perspective that marks his version out from the many. 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 …”
So far I have assessed the two versions without taking the soloists into the account. I was deeply impressed by Spering’s soprano, South Korean Sunhae Im. Her voice is light and glittering, with an Emma Kirkby purity about her. Bolton has, however, a real trump-card in Miah Persson. Vocally she has the same purity, the same agility and probably also the slightly larger voice paired with more expression. Her big aria Auf starkem Fittiche is deeply involved and the solo flute that twitters behind her is ideally balanced to make this in effect a duet. The young Finn Topi Lehtipuu, resident in Paris, is also a highly expressive singer but tonally he isn’t as attractive as Spering’s Jan Kobow. Lehtipuu is more of a character tenor and this pays dividends, not least in the aria Mit Würd’ und Hoheit. Kobow is smoother but maybe a little pale.
Veteran David Wilson-Johnson has probably never sung a dull note in his entire career, which now spans almost 30 years. Here he invests every phrase with illuminating inflexions, starting Im Anfange schuf Gott quietly, as if not wanting to disperse the wonder surrounding the creation. He is a powerfully dramatic story-teller in the recitatives Und Gott machte das Firmament and later Und Gott schuf grosse Walfische. But Müller-Brachmann for Spering is also very keen with his words. Though sometimes a bit unsteady, his is the darker, more rounded voice. Wilson-Johnson for all his excellence and deep musicality is a baritone and at times his long career has started to make its mark.
The recording is excellent and there is nothing to reveal that it was recorded live: no coughing, no applause … The booklet has full texts and English translations, artists’ bios and historical notes. A quality product that should give great pleasure to all lovers of this marvellous masterpiece.
My ranking still has Spering at the top and for an altogether more large-scale version I have a special liking for Levine (DG) with the unsurpassable Kurt Moll as Raphael. Bolton is also highly attractive and, as I intimated at the beginning, possibly a safer bet for those who are sceptical about period performance practice.
Göran Forsling


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