RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
The Creation (sung in German) (1798) [96:09]
Amanda Forsythe (soprano)
Keith Jameson (tenor)
Kevin Deas (bass-baritone)
Boston Baroque/Martin Pearlman
rec. Stereo, Surround, Mechanics Hall, Worcester, Massachusetts, October 2011
LINN CKD401 SACD [69:22 + 27:21]
This delicious new recording of The Creation is a real treat. It comes from the most famous of the New World’s period ensembles, led by their irrepressible music director, Martin Pearlman. Together they have forged a reputation for excitement and vigour in the baroque and classical repertoire, and they bring something to this music that few others do.
The first joy of the set is the playing of the orchestra, clipped, precise and vigorous. Working in conjunction with Linn’s outstanding recorded sound they continually reawaken the ear to the many joys in Haydn’s score, and not just in the overtly descriptive passages of the second part. The balance is outstanding so that the strings come forward but are well matched with the winds who are clear and crisp. The trumpets and timpani are rounded and golden with enough sheen to make them exciting but not enough prominence to drown out the rest of the orchestra. Their contribution to the big choruses, such as that at the beginning of the third part, is thrilling. At the key moment of the creation of light, the sound is bright, clear and forward but never overwhelming and you can hear every aspect of the instrumentation. It should always be a thrilling moment, but I’ve seldom heard it work as well as here.
Pearlman’s direction keeps the whole thing going with vigour and bounce. He has opted for the German edition of the text (full texts with English translations are provided) because, he writes, it fits the music better and avoids some of the more awkward phrases that turn up in the English translation. The only loss this brings is in immediacy of understanding, minimised if you follow the text in the booklet. On the other hand, it brings many advances in clarity of diction, and on balance he’s probably right that the notes fit the German language more comfortably. In the booklet note he writes that Haydn’s many different performance practices give the modern interpreter plenty of scope for realising the work today. He chooses a fairly substantial size of chorus and orchestra, giving the work bite and heft and allowing the majesty of much of Haydn’s writing to survive the period treatment. As such, he serves as a happy medium between the big, old-fashioned style of Karajan’s 1964 DG recording - still a treat for lovers of lushness with the chorus of the Vienna Singverein, the playing of the Berlin Philharmonic and an incredible line-up of soloists - and the more austere minimalist interpretations that come out of some wings of the period instrument brigade. This makes this recording a good one with which to introduce The Creation to someone for the first time, as well as an admirable reference point against which to compare some of the others.
This is not to damn with faint praise, though, as the singing is just as good as the playing. The chorus sound rich and exuberant, and they bring a real touch of class to the big moments, making almost every word clear and comprehensible. Their scale (25 singers) also means that the listener won’t feel cheated out of splendour. On balance, you will get all the benefits of a period performance without the loss of grandeur. The soloists are also very good. Kevin Deas is the anchor of the set, narrating the unfolding scene with authority and depth. The highlight of his performance is a rousing rendition of Nun scheint in vollem Glanze der Himmel, thrillingly sung with resplendent brass and timpani to give it extra sheen. Amanda Forsythe is, if anything, even finer, crowning the solo trio with her glorious soprano, light, bright and radiant - just right for an archangel! She is also the finest of the three in providing the ornamentations that Pearlman encourages, delicate and subtle in the da capo, never intrusive or attention-grabbing. She is at her finest in her “eagle” aria, “Auf starkem Fittiche”: listen to the delectable trills which accompany the tender cooing of the dove. Next to these two Kevin Deas has a tendency to sound weedy and lightweight at times, but even he finds something extra for his brief but important recitatives in the third part.
It’s two thumbs up for this release, then, something that would provide an excellent introduction to The Creation for newcomers but will also contain plenty to delight old hands; in short, another feather in the cap of Pearlman and Boston Baroque.
Another feather in the cap of Pearlman and Boston Baroque.