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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Die Schöpfung, Hob. XXI.:2 (1798) [99:16]
Christina Landshamer (soprano); Maximilian Schmitt (tenor); Rudolf Rosen (bass)
Collegium Vocale Ghent; Orchestre des Champs-Elysées/Philippe Herreweghe
rec. 24-26 March 2014, Studio IV, Flagey, Brussels. DDD
German texts and English and French translations included
PHI LPH018 [51:10 + 46:06]

Back in 2014 I reviewed a recording by Philippe Herreweghe of Die Jahreszeiten. Impressed, I expressed the hope that the same team would go on to record Die Schöpfung. Well, they have done so although there is one change to the line-up of soloists with Rudolf Rosen replacing Florian Boesch.

What a wonderful work Die Schöpfung is; it’s inspired and inspirational. There is consistently delightful writing for the soloists, the choruses are splendid, and I struggle to think of a work in which Haydn wrote so imaginatively and felicitously for the orchestra. I’ve had the good fortune to sing in several performances of it over the years and whether I’m taking part in or listening to a performance I never tire of it.

Here Haydn’s score is marvellously served. Philippe Herreweghe paces the work beautifully and directs proceedings with a lightness of touch that ensures that the twinkle in Haydn’s eye is apparent. His choir and orchestra are flexible and responsive while all three soloists give great pleasure.

Christina Landshamer is particularly impressive. In ‘Nun beut die Flur das frische Grün’, to which Herreweghe imparts a lovely pastoral lilt, her singing is charming and pure of tone. She makes the decorations in Haydn’s vocal line her servant. Later, ‘Auf starkem Fittiche’ is, if anything, finer still. She’s partnered by a splendid flautist, too. Here the innocent, Spring-like freshness of Haydn’s music is put over in a way that is absolutely captivating. I enjoyed every aspect of Miss Landshamer’s singing in this performance.

Maximilian Schmitt also gives a good account of himself. He demonstrates good, clear tone in ‘Nun schwanden vor dem heiligen Strahle’; his voice is not too heavy of timbre but there’s a touch of steel too, which I like. His voice is well suited to Haydn. He’s equally impressive in his other contributions and like his colleagues he does the recitatives very well, imparting life to the story-telling. I wasn’t quite sure that I was going to like Rudolf Rosen at first because he seems to me to try too hard in his second recitative, ‘Und Gott machte das Firmament’, sacrificing a little accuracy of note-pitching in his desire for expression. However, I like him much more when he’s singing legato, as for instance in ‘Rollend in schäumenden Wellen’. He’s suitably dignified in ‘Nun scheint in vollem Glanze der Himmel’ and he makes a fine Adam in Part III.

The Collegium Vocale Ghent, 36-strong on this occasion sings very well indeed. The various fugues, though delivered robustly, contain plenty of light and shade and I appreciate very much the clarity the choir brings to the fugues. That results in a fine balance not just between the various vocal lines but also with the orchestra. There are some jubilant choruses in Die Schöpfung and this expert choir puts each one of them across splendidly.

As for the orchestra, I relished time and time again the timbres of the period instruments. The Representation of Chaos that opens the work is most impressive, the colours carefully touched in. The opening of Part III, ‘Aus Rosenwolken bricht’ is ravishing, not least thanks to the beguiling sound of the flutes. The orchestration of this oratorio is a miracle of inventiveness and imagination and these players really bring the score to life. Once or twice I thought that the fortepiano contribution was a little bit on the fussy side, However, there were just as many occasions when I loved the imaginative touches, such as the imitation of harps during the bass recitative that precedes the trio ‘In holder Anmut stehn’.

Everything is brought together by Philippe Herreweghe. As I indicated earlier, his conducting is excellent. His pacing puts life into the music and there were almost no occasions when I wasn’t anything but fully convinced by his tempi. He leads a marvellous performance of this life-enhancing score.

The catalogue contains many fine recordings of this masterpiece, both in German and English. Amongst these my own favourites – all of them very different - include the versions by Sir John Eliot Gardiner (DG Archiv) and Herbert von Karajan (DG), both of which are in German, and by Christopher Hogwood (L’Oiseau-Lyre), Paul McCreesh and Sir Simon Rattle (EMI) all of which are in English. Each of these versions – and several others – brings much to Haydn’s score. Philippe Herreweghe’s recording now joins my list of personal favourites and must surely count as one of the principal library recommendations.

The recorded sound is excellent; there’s presence and clarity. There’s an attractive booklet which contains good notes by Charles Johnston; it’s just a pity the print is on the small side.

This recording has been worth waiting for.

John Quinn


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