Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809) The Creation (Die Schöpfung)
Nicole Heaston (soprano),
Toby Spence (tenor),
Peter Rose (bass),
Houston Symphony and Chorus/Andres Orozco-Estrada
rec. 2016, Jesse H. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, Houston, USA
Sung in German. PENTATONE PTC5186614 SACD [52:41+46:46]
It was at the invitation of Johann Peter Salomon that Haydn made two trips to London in 1791 and 1794. On the second sojourn he was handed an English poem entitled The Creation of the World penned, according to the Haydn scholar H. C. Robbins Landon, by an unknown hand. On his return to Vienna, Haydn passed it to Gottfried van Swieten who was tasked with working it into a German libretto (Die Schöpfung). The sources for the text are Genesis, the Book of Psalms and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. The composer worked on his masterpiece from 1796 until 1798, when it was premiered in Vienna under his own direction. The work is structured in three parts consisting of recitatives, arias, duets, trios and choruses, with soprano, tenor and bass soloists. In Parts 1 and 2, the soloists undertake the roles of the archangels Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael and assume narrative roles. Part 1 recounts the first four days of creation, with Part 2 dealing with days five and six, where plants and animals appear. Adam and Eve appear on the seventh day in Part 3, with the bass and soprano taking up those roles. The musicologist David Ewen’s description is as succinct as any: “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 Representation of Chaos’ is depicted in the opening orchestral introduction and Orozco-Estrada vividly creates a mood of drama and suspense. Into this primordial terrain Raphael enters. The bass Peter Rose has a rich, vibrant tone which is deeply expressive. The first aria is assigned to Uriel ‘God saw the light, that it was good’, which is exultantly delivered by Toby Spence, here making his Houston Symphony debut and superbly cast in the role. His voice has an endearing warmth and sincerity, which I find compelling. The soprano Nicole Heaston makes her first appearance as Gabriel in the lyrical ‘The marv’lous work’ solo (with chorus). Her voice has tremendous appeal. Orozco-Estrada points up the orchestral accompaniment with crisp articulation. The Houston Symphony Chorus are well-rehearsed and their contributions are marked by flawless ensemble and rhythmic buoyancy. Gabriel’s celebrated pastoral aria ‘With verdure clad the fields appear delightful’ is eloquently etched. The three soloists join the chorus for a rousing rendition of ‘The heavens are telling the glory of God’. My favorite aria is Uriel’s ‘In native worth and honour clad’, and Spence’s glowing account certainly doesn’t disappoint.
Rose and Heaston take up the roles of Adam and Eve in Part 3. Their duet ‘By thee with bliss, O bounteous Lord’ is praiseworthy, as is their ‘Graceful consort!’ which follows. The final chorus is exhilarating and triumphant, with the fugal elements sharply delineated.
There is no doubting the commitment of all concerned in this project. The solo singing is a considerable plus, and you feel that the soloists fully relish their roles. Their zeal is infectious. The balance between orchestra, soloists and choir couldn’t have been better managed, with a wide dynamic range admirably projected. The Houston venue is ideal and the overall sound quality is fresh and immediate. Although entering a crowded field, this version, sung in German, provides a worthy alternative and deserves a firm place on the library shelves.
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