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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Die Schöpfung (sung in German)
Julia Kleiter (soprano); Maximilian Schmitt (tenor); Johannes Weisser (bass)
RIAS Kammerchor
Freiburger Barockorchester/René Jacobs
rec. January 2009, Teldex Studio, Berlin
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC 972039.40 [72:59 + 28:05]

This is probably the most dramatically involving Creation on disc, but it won’t be to everyone’s taste. Rather than smooth over the edges in the name of Enlightenment refinement, Jacobs goes out of his way to point up the contrasts and to glory in the diversity of Haydn’s great masterpiece. That’s all very well in its way, and produces some wonderful effects. For example, you can’t miss the lumbering bass line that depicts the rumblings of the “great whales” — which, as exaggerated here, makes it sound even more ridiculous. As for the crescendo for the sunrise at the end of Part 1 this is even more pronounced. Likewise, Jacobs is forever pointing up the contrasts in dynamics to make a particular point. He leans exaggeratedly into the rumble of thunder in No. 3, for example, and underlines the smoothness of other moments, such as the pastoral simplicity of “Nun beut die Flur”. He is helped in this by the always virtuosic playing of the Freiburgers, who buy into his vision completely and play like a group of concerto soloists rather than a regular orchestra. That’s not necessarily a bad thing and the virtuosity of each section repeatedly comes under the spotlight in a very attractive way: the flutes in the rosy introduction to Part 3, for example, or the trumpets that gloriously end Adam and Eve’s first duet.
The element that binds all this together is Jacobs’ way with the recitatives. If you know his Mozart opera recordings then there is little here that will surprise you. He uses a fortepiano (played by Sebastian Wienand) that improvises around and embellishes the line in a way that is at first intrusive. This, I admit, I warmed to — in a way that I most definitely did not in his Mozart. He uses this device to propel the drama in a way that is almost breathless in places. Take, for example, the number for soprano and chorus in Part 1, “Mit Staunen sieht das Wunderwerk”: in most recordings there is a brief pause as that number ends and the next recitative begins. Here the fortepiano seems to grab the music and the listener by the scruff of its neck. This propels them straight into the ensuing narrative of the separation of the sea from the dry land, even before the previous chorus has died away. It’s undeniable exciting, but it’s a world away from the more conventionally refined performances of, say, Karajan’s classic account or even the more recent one from Boston Baroque and Martin Pearlman.
The singing is very good from the RIAS Kammerchor, who are bombastic or subtle as the moment requires. They are very much a part of the general palette that Jacobs creates for this work. Maximilian Schmitt is the pick of the soloists, his golden tone as reliable as ever. Julia Kleiter sounds a little pinched in some sections, but is mostly as full as she needs to be and is suitably radiant when she takes on the part of Eve. Johannes Weisser is rather too gravelly for my taste, but even he finds a more beautiful register to his voice when he gets to Adam’s music in Part 3.
So there is a lot to enjoy here, but buyer, beware. If you like what Jacobs does then this set will be right up your street, but he is very much himself here, so don’t be under any false impression that he’ll be on good behaviour.
Simon Thompson