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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809) Die Schöpfung Hob. XX1:2 (1798)
Yeree Suh (soprano); Tilman Lichdi (tenor); Matthias Winckhler (baritone)
La Capella Reial de Catalunya
Le Concert des Nations/Jordi Savall
rec. 5-7 May 2021, La Collégiale du Château de Cardona (Catalonia)
German text & translations (Castellano, Catalá, English, French, Italian) included ALIA VOX AVSA9945 SACD [54:18 + 49:00]
This recording of Haydn’s vernal masterpiece was made under studio conditions partway through a series of concert performances by the same artists. Small forces are used: the choir numbers just twenty singers – five voices per part – and there are 36 players in the orchestra. You won’t be surprised to learn, then, that the textures are consistently clear and light.
To the best of my recollection, I haven’t encountered any of the soloists before. I was impressed; their singing gives considerable pleasure and all three voices are well suited to Haydn’s music and to Jordi Savall’s conception of it. The Korean soprano, Yeree Suh has a bright, clear and agile voice. In the fresh, pastoral music of ‘Nun beut die Flur das frische Grün’ she sings with a sense of wide-eyed wonder. I also like her ornamentation – as I do elsewhere in the work. Her other big set piece aria is ‘Auf starkem Fittiche schwinget sich der Adler’ which she sings with agility and a winning, silvery tone. In both these arias the orchestra delivers Haydn’s wondrous tone-painting superbly; the woodwinds, and especially the first flute, make delectable contributions to the latter aria. Later, in Part III, Yeree Suh is bright and engaging as Eve.
The German baritone, Matthias Winckhler is a suave Adam in Part III. Both he and Yeree Suh epitomise grace and gentle rapture at the start of their duet ‘Holde Gattin!’ and then when the quicker part of that number is reached their eagerness is clear to hear. Earlier, Winckhler makes a fine job of Raphael’s music. He’s nimble in the recitatives and suitably characterful in the arias. For example, he has the requisite heft for the first part of ‘Rollend in schäumenden Wellen’ then he sings the second half of the aria with a seamless legato and gently burnished tone. Like his two soloist colleagues, his enunciation of the German text is clear at all times. Winckhler strikes just the right note of nobility in the fine aria ‘Nun scheint in vollem Glanze der Himmel’. I’ve heard bigger and more characterful baritone voices in this work but Winckhler seems ideally equipped for this particular assignment and I enjoyed his singing very much.
Completing the solo line-up, as Uriel, is another German artist, tenor Tilman Lichdi. He impresses immediately, heralding the light in ‘Und Gott sah das Licht’; his clarity and fluency are excellent in the aria that follows. I enjoyed all his subsequent contributions, not least his account of ‘Mit Würd’ und Hoheit angetan’. This is music that epitomises Enlightenment elegance and Lichdi gives a ringing performance of it, not neglecting the poetry either. As with Yeree Suh, I like his ornamentation, here and elsewhere. Lichdi brings gentle rapture to ‘Aus Rosenwolken bricht’ and this lovely movement benefits also from the delectable orchestral playing. Hereabouts., the artistry of Le Concert des Nations conjures up an aural vision of the Garden of Eden.
Elsewhere, as you will have inferred from my previous comments, the orchestra contribution is terrific. I like the grainy sound of the strings while the woodwind relish the manifold opportunities for colouration and decoration that Haydn gives them. The brass players and the timpanist make their presence felt in just the right proportions without ever overpowering the rest of the ensemble. I think that the orchestral scoring in Die Schöpfung is a thing of wonder and here Haydn’s genius is shown for what it is. Pianist Luca Guglielmi judges the decorative aspect of the continuo expertly; the decoration is tasteful and never obtrusive.
There are only twenty singers in the choir and that makes for wonderful clarity of articulation. So, for example, the fugue in ‘Stimmt an die Saiten’ is ideally defined, with every line in the choir – and in the orchestra too – clearly heard. The choir’s observance of dynamics is exemplary and they bring off all the big celebratory choruses splendidly. The size of the vocal ensemble also means the choral contributions are agile and flexible while the clarity of diction is excellent. I never felt any lack of weight in the choruses and I loved the freshness of the choral sound.
Jordi Savall’s direction of the oratorio is compelling. I thought his tempo selection was consistently judicious – the only time I was thoughtful about a speed was in the chorus which ends Part II. This seems to me to be a bit on the steady side for a chorus of jubilation. On the other hand, I wondered initially if his speed for the opening of Part II was a touch too swift but the lightness and flow Savall achieves won me round. In all other respects, though, I think he captures and conveys ideally the humanity, the wit and invention, and the sheer delight of Haydn’s miraculous score. I enjoyed this performance from start to finish and in this work, you can’t pay a conductor – or his fellow musicians – a higher compliment. Collectively and individually, they bring this masterpiece vividly to life in a stylish performance of great freshness.
Alia Vox’s presentation is opulent. The booklet runs to 182 pages. It includes the full German libretto with translations into no less than five languages; indeed, to accommodate this generosity it has been necessary to print the libretto twice. If I’m being picky, I thought that the English translation was less than ideal in places, but that’s a minor quibble. There are good essays about the work by Marc Vignal and by Jordi Savall himself. These, too, are offered in six languages. All this is what I call looking after your customers. The booklet is also illustrated by a copious selection of colour illustrations, mainly photographs taken during the sessions and during the associated concerts.
The one thing I haven’t mentioned is the recorded sound. I’m glad to say that this in keeping with all the other aspects of this release. The sound on these SACDs (to which I listened using the stereo layer) is very good indeed. Everything is well defined and engineer Manuel Mohino has balanced all the various elements – soloists, choir, orchestra – very successfully. There’s an excellent dynamic range and the sound has satisfying presence. The pleasing natural resonance of the venue has been expertly judged.
In his introductory essay, Jordi Savall explains that this recording of Die Schöpfung has been a long-held dream. All I can say after hearing his superb account of Haydn’s life-enhancing masterpiece, is that it’s been worth the wait.