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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Die Schöpfung (The Creation) - oratorio for solo voices, choir and orchestra, Hob. XXI:2 (1798) [101:17]
Camilla Tilling (soprano: Gabriel, Eve)
Mark Padmore (tenor: Uriel)
Hanno Müller-Brachmann (bass-baritone: Raphael, Adam)
Chor und Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Bernard Haitink
rec. live. 19-20 December 2013, Herkulessaal, Munich, Germany
Full text in German with English translations
BR KLASSIK 900125 [37:46 + 63:31]

It’s always gratifying hearing a new recording of Haydn’s The Creation and this new one under the eighty-four year old Bernard Haitink was recorded live. He has selected a splendidly blended trio of soloists: Swedish soprano Camilla Tilling, Mark Padmore, the English tenor and German bass-baritone, Hanno Müller-Brachmann.
 
Haydn visited London in 1791-92 and heard a series of Handel concerts, including Messiah at Westminster Abbey. These made a tremendous impression on him. During his second visit to London in 1794-95 he received from Johann Peter Salomon a draft English libretto of the story of The Creation. This had been adapted from parts of the Book of Genesis and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. It was Gottfried van Swieten who was largely responsible for arranging the English libretto into a German translation: Die Schöpfung. Haydn in his mid-sixties was nearing the end of his life when he composed the work which he approached with religious zeal.
 
The Creation had its public premiere at the Burgtheater Vienna in March 1799. It scored a remarkable success and up to 1810 was performed some forty times just in Vienna. Many commentators consider it Haydn’s greatest masterpiece. Beethoven said of it that he would “kneel before Haydn’s grave.” Eminent musicologist David Ewen described it marvellously: “This is a tone poem (more than half a century before Liszt devised the form) describing chaos being resolved into order, darkness into light.” (The Complete Book of Classical Music, pub. Robert Hale, London, 1965).
 
One of the numerous highlights of the present recording is the Orchestral Prelude: Die Vorstellung des Chaos (The Representation of Chaos) so spiritedly and atmospherically played. Following on is the Chorus, Und der Geist Gottes (And the Spirit of God) which is sung with expertise and commitment by the Chor des Bayerischen. Initially soft and tender, the vocal episode ends abruptly at 1:02 with a near explosion of orchestral power. Mark Padmore excels as Uriel in the tenor arias with chorus Nun schwanden vor dem heiligen Strahle (Now vanish before the holy beams) and the celebrated Mit Würd' und Hoheit angetan (In native worth and honour clad) demonstrates his facility for polished expression. Padmore couples his crystal clear diction and agreeable tone with a rare sensitivity for the texts. Maintaining that same level of excellence is Camilla Tilling who shines in Gabriel’s arias: the renowned Nun beut die Flur das frische Grün (With verdure clad the fields appear) and Auf starkem Fittiche schwinget sich der Adler stolz (On mighty wings uplifted soars the eagle aloft). Although comfortable all through her range Tilling’s bright and appealing soprano slides easily up to the high register. Müller-Brachmann is splendidly cast in the dual roles of Raphael and Adam. In Raphael’s arias Rollend in schäumenden Wellen (Rolling in foaming billows) and Nun scheint in vollem Glanze der Himmel (Now shines heaven in the brightest glory) Müller-Brachmann, displays his rich, lustily sonorous tone to excellent effect. I was captivated by the trio In holder Anmut stehn (Most beautiful appear) where the expressive yet respectful voices combining arrestingly with the orchestral playing. As I expected, the highpoint of the release is Adam and Eve’s beautiful, heart-rending love duet Holde Gattin! Dir zur Seite (Graceful consort! At thy side). The contrasting voices of Müller-Brachmann and Camilla Tilling come together with sublime tenderness. One of the most celebrated passages is the mighty Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes (The heavens are telling the glory of God) for soloists and chorus. This generates a glorious full-blooded sound.
 
There are a number of excellent recordings of The Creation in the catalogues and the two that I play most often are from Herbert von Karajan and Nikolaus Harnoncourt. In 1966-69 Herbert von Karajan made his outstanding recording with a well chosen team of soloists: Fritz Wunderlich, Werner Krenn, Gundula Janowitz, Christa Ludwig, Walter Berry, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau with the Wiener Singverein and Berliner Philharmoniker on Deutsche Grammophon. I remain an admirer of Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s persuasive live 2003 Vienna account performed on period instruments. It offers an abundance of precision and vitality with soloists Dorothea Röschmann, Michael Schade and Christian Gerhaher, the Arnold Schoenberg Choir and Concentus musicus Wien. It's on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi.
 
The present excellent live account of The Creation with impeccable Bavarian forces under Haitink is beautifully shaped and vividly radiates a fitting sense of reverence. It is undoubtedly a match for the finest in the catalogue. It has the benefit of excellent recorded sound, clear and most satisfactorily balanced. The impressively designed booklet includes full texts in German with English translations.
 
Michael Cookson