I will deliberately leave my reactions to Die Schöpfung
last. For this reviewer the interest in this set lies with the
two lesser-known pieces. Purchase of this box may result in the
happy event of a “supplementary” Schöpfung
the reader’s collection, and, given the high standard of
Spering’s reading, that would be no bad thing.
has always sat in the shade of Die Schöpfung
that has unfairly militated against it. Sir
Thomas Beecham famously championed the work, but his late
1950s performance was sung in English - this performance is available
both on Somm
on two EMI Classics releases: a Gemini and a
with the London
The Introduction to Die Jahreszeiten
- a portrait of the
journey from Winter to Spring - sets the scene perfectly here.
The use of light articulation and clearly informed performance
practice add life to the luminous counterpoint. Modern instruments
are used, but with stylistic expertise. The scoring, notably,
includes three trombones - who return in the prayer, “Sei
non gnädig”. The Introduction moves straight into
Simon’s recitative on the departure of Winter. Lukas describes
the melting snows, leading to a welcome to Spring from Hanne.
All three soloists are expertly matched. Sibylla Rubens (Hanne)
has a wonderfully pure soprano, her pitching is spot-on and her
phrasing is clearly heartfelt. It is Hanne who leads the finale
- from the Freudenlied, “O wie lieblich ist der Anblick!” -
and she does so beautifully.
Simon’s aria, “Schon eilet froh der Ackersmann” (With
eagerness the husbandsman) is notable for the inclusion of the
famous theme from Haydn’s “Surprise” symphony.
Geneva-born bass-baritone Stephan MacLeod is attractively voiced
but his voice lacks some power.
Tenor Andreas Karasiak (Lukas) is light of voice and has no problems
at all with the higher-lying passages. All three soloists work
perfectly together - as Spring’s finale conclusively proves.
The Leipzig Chamber Choir are a light-toned ensemble. In “Komm,
holder Lenz!”, where boys and girls each get their chance
to comment. They still pack a punch in the Spring finale’s
celebration of Nature as well as sharply delineating the lines
of the fugue at “Ehre, Lob und Preis” (Glory, praise
Summer, in terms of music, is the longest season. A hunting horn
plays a prominent part in Simon’s aria, “Der muntre
Hirt versammelt nun” (The ready swain is gath’ring
now). MacLeod phrases most suavely. Just a pity the aria is only
three minutes long: Haydn’s intent is clearly to leave
one wanting more. Instead of extending the aria, Haydn graphically
paints the rising sun with ascending figures for soloists before
the chorus affirms the sun has risen. Karasiak’s plaintive
voice suits his cavatina “Dem Druck’ erlieget die
Natur” (Distressful Nature fainting sinks), but Rubens
overshadows him in her gripping way with recitative (“Wilkommen
jetzt, o dunkler Hain”: Welcome now, ye shady groves) and
in her ensuing, charming aria, “Welche Labung für
die Sinne” (O what comfort to the senses). This, it turns
out, is a remarkably emotionally-charged summer season, including
a thunderstorm: the chorus, “Ah! Das Ungewitter naht”:
O! The tempest comes o’er head.
The booklet notes refer to the influence of Mozart’s Zauberflöte
the writing, and there is certainly an element of truth in this.
It seems particularly obvious in “Autumn”. There
is much delightful writing to the Terzetto and Chorus, “So
lehnet der Natur den Fleiss” (So Nature ever kind repays),
a movement which finds the three soloists in beautiful balance.
The longest section of “Autumn” is Lukas and Hanne’s
duet, “Iht Schönen aus der Stadt, kommt her” (Ye
ladies fine and fair, O come). Karasiak’s light tenor renders
Haydn’s upbeat writing well. Rubens’ Hanne responds
with an identifiably Spring-like freshness. Again, though, I
find myself a little worried by MacLeod’s voice, slightly
lacking in projection, in his “Seht auf die breiten Wiesen
hin” (Behold the wide extended meads). A shame, as the
orchestral accompaniment is spot-on in terms of string articulation
and general sprightliness. The hunting horns of the chorus “Hört
das laute Getön” (Hear the clank and the noise) have
a ball, exhibiting a rusticity that verges on rowdiness. The
finale augments this with what Haydn himself described as a “drunken
fugue”. The music swings - or should that be sways? - most
The libretto is available on the Naxos
, but only in German.
The rather old-fashioned English translations used in this review
are taken from the Naxos booklet.
The oratorio Il ritorno di Tobia
over three discs. I first heard this piece when it was issued
singly in 2007 and was massively impressed (see reviews
both by Haydn’s invention and by the present performance.
The libretto is by Giovanni Gastone Boccherini, brother of the
composer Luigi Boccherini. The Capella Augustina gives a punchy,
stylistically-aware account of the opening Sinfonia; more, the
recording quality is exemplary, fully supporting the sforzandi
The opening trio and chorus, “Pietà d’un’ infelice” (Have
pity on an unhappy, tormented mother”) is most affectingly
realised. Vocal performance sets the standard for what follows.
Ann Hallenberg is a strong, creamy-voiced Anna, and she is matched
by the strong Borchev as Tobit. The initial conversation between
the two feels perhaps too long, but it is compensated for by
Anna’s superb aria, “Sudò il guerriero” (The
warrior sweats), especially with the declamatory, ample-voiced
Hallenberg fronting things. This is a real highlight of this
wonderful work, and if the reader wishes to sample Tobia
to purchase - via one of the Naxos sites, perhaps - this would
be a good place to start. Hallenberg shines again later in the
first part in her aria, “Ah gran Dio” (Great God),
a tender and heartfelt statement of appreciation for God’s
benevolence in sending Tobias to cure his father’s blindness.
The radiant chorus that follows takes the same words and acts
as what might be described as a radiant suffix. The chorus is
in fact excellent throughout, and fully rises to the blazing
white light of Part I’s final number, “Odi le nostre
voci” (Hear our prayer) and to the rigours of the concluding
fugue. Hallenberg’s Part II aria, “Come un signo” (As
in a dream) reveals Haydn’s dramatic gifts as he paints
in music the character of Anna’s nightmares, and again,
a chorus reinforces the drama effectively (“Svanisce in
un momento”, In a moment disappear).
Anders Dahlin is a light tenor who tries to be a touch too subtle
for his aria “Quando mi dona un cenno” (When your
sweet lips). The effect is to direct our ears towards the ever-stylish
playing of the Capella Augustina; even his closing cadenza is
restrained, fully in tune with his purpose of projecting beauty.
The Second Part aria, “Quel felice nocchier” (The
happy boatswain) reinforces these impressions.
Sara’s long-awaited introduction to the audience occurs
at her aria, “Del caro sposo” (I am in my dear husband’s
house). Sophie Karthäuser is a splendid young singer whose
career is very much on the up, and this confirms her status.
She has the wide range necessary for this aria, negotiates the
wide leaps well and delivers her scales impeccably. The Part
II aria “Non parmi esser fra gl’uomini” (I
would not be amongst mankind) reveals her ease in the delivery
of long, lyrical lines.
Borchev is, as initial impressions suggested, a strong but intensely
musical titular Tobit. Try his magnificent “Ah tu m’ascolta,
O Dio” (Hear me, O God), an aria that seems to include
within its 4:45 span a whole variety of vocal techniques, all
of which Borchev negotiates spectacularly well.
The part of Raphael (Raffaele) is taken by the well-known Milanese
soprano Roberta Invernizzi. Her first aria, “Quel figlio
a te sì caro” (That, son, so dear to me) is prefaced
by the most magical melisma on “Anna, m’ascolta”.
This is mirrored perhaps in the cadenza she enjoys at the end
of the succeeding aria, complete with introductory orchestral
6/4 chord. Invernizzi’s stylistic awareness is magnificent;
her ability to negotiate wide leaps accurately, with no notes “caught” in
between and no feeling of swoop is most refreshing. Part II of
the oratorio begins with a gentle conversation between Anna,
Sarah and Raphael (“O della santa fé stupendi effetti”;
Oh the marvellous workings of blessed faith) before Invernizzi
is given the aria, “Come se a voi parlasse” (As if
to you a messenger from Heaven would speak), where she absolutely
shines, her voice ever-responsive to the text, her technique
Haydn’s music is of infinite variety. The duet, “Dunque,
O Dio” towards the end of the piece for Tobia and Anna
is a magnificent feat of restrained emotion and beauty. The chorus
is used sparingly but effectively.
The libretto, this time, is included in the booklet but in Italian
is obviously the best-known of the
pieces here. Spering’s “Representation of Chaos” is
not the most shocking I have heard, so the contrast with the
ensuing recitative “Im Anfange schuf Gott Hummel und Erde” is
not quite as marked as Haydn surely intended. This is perhaps
surprising, given the intrinsic rawness of original instruments.
The arrival on the word “Licht” is glowing, however.
Jan Kobow is an excellent, dramatic Uriel; Hanno Müller-Brachmann
takes the role of the Archangel Raphael, while Sunhae Im is a
radiant, light-voiced and incredibly agile Gabriel.
Müller-Brachmann makes a firm impression in his aria, “Rollend
in schaümenden Wellen” (Rolling in foaming billows),
and firmly enjoys his descriptions of the animals in his Part
II recitative, “Und Gott sprach: es bringe die Erde hervor
lebends Geschöpfe” (And God said: Let the earth bring
forth the living creatures).
Im impresses in her Part II aria, “Auf starkem Fittiche
schwinget sich der Adler stolz” (On mighty pens uplifted
soars the eagle aloft); Kobow’s light, musical tenor suits
Uriel’s “Mit Würd’ und Hoheit angetan” (In
native worth and honour clad) to a tee.
The choral contribution in this work is marked, and the VokalEnsemble
Köln is uniformly excellent. The punchy “Stimmt an
die Seiten” (Awake the harp) is wonderfully agile and stimulating,
the famous “Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes” (The
Heavens are telling of the Glory of God).
Spering’s dramatic pacing is excellent, resulting in a
truly held-breath “Vollendet ist das grosse Werk” (Achieved
is the glorious work) with its perfectly balanced contained Trio, “Zu
dir, Herr, blickt alles auf” (On Thee each living soul
awaits). The beauty of Part III - in particular, the Adam/Eve
duet, “Von deiner Güt’” and the bucolic
contentment of “Holde Gattin!” - is laid bare for
all to hear. This is emphasised by Spering’s careful preparation
in Parts I and II, while the final grandeur of the last chorus, “Singet
dem Herren alle Stimmen” (Sing the Lord, ye voices all!),
complete with magisterial double fugue, acts as a fitting ending.
Again, no libretto, only a track-by-track synopsis.
A convenient and cost-effective way to familiarise yourself with
two of Haydn’s lesser-known choral works, then.