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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]

I was first alerted to the imminence of this recording by my Seen and Heard International colleague, Mark Berry. He reviewed a performance of Die Schöpfung by the same artists and this formed the opening concert of the 2014 Salzburg Festival. I had not expected the recording, made last December, to arrive so soon, however.

I was astonished to learn from that Salzburg review that Haitink has only quite recently taken Die Schöpfung into his repertoire. That such a distinguished exponent of the great Austro-German tradition should have waited so long to take up Haydn’s miraculous masterpiece is a cause for surprise – and regret; that he should have done so now to such excellent effect is a cause for celebration.

The success of this very fine recording, taken from two live performances, is due to many things but one such is that Haitink has an excellent trio of soloists at his command. Camilla Tilling offers some delectable singing as Gabriel yet this is a soprano angel with backbone as well as charm and Miss Tilling projects with authority. I was very taken with her poised and attractive delivery of ‘Nun beut die Flur das frische Grün’ and her account of ‘Auf starkem Fittige’ is as winning as it is agile. Here her decoration of the line is expert and the performance as a whole is full of charm and expression. She’s no less successful when in Part III she moves from the angelic realm to take on the earthly persona of Eve.

Hanno Müller-Brachmann is also called upon to be angelic and, as Adam in Part III, human. His singing is excellent throughout. His is the first voice we hear, emerging from the depiction of Chaos to invest ‘Im Anfange schuf Gott Himmel und Erde’ with a real sense of tension and mystery – which the choir then sustains when they take over. He’s colourful in his narration of the creation of the waters and later, in Part II, when it falls to him to relate the creation of Man his singing is patrician in tone.

I’m delighted to have a recording of Mark Padmore in this work. He lives up to expectations fully, singing throughout with the light yet firm voice and, above all, with the care for words that mark him out. At his very first entry – ‘Und Gott sah das Licht’ – his clarion call is that of a true herald. At the other end of the vocal spectrum, as it were, he brings a fine range of colour and expression to ‘In vollem Glanze’. He is at his finest, perhaps, in ‘Aus Rosenwolken bricht’. There his subtle, responsive singing and the equally nuanced playing of the orchestra evoke superbly Haydn’s magical depiction of romantic dalliance in an innocent pastoral landscape.

Memorable though the solo and choral writing is in this oratorio it is arguably the orchestration that shows Haydn at his most imaginative. Whether he is illustrating great whales, beasts of burden, soaring birds or the most delicate of plants he finds unerringly the right instrumental timbres and colours to complement the words. From start to finish this oratorio is a miracle of orchestral inventiveness and the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks relish the opportunities that are on offer. The Representation of Chaos suggests that we’re in for a treat as far as the playing goes, because Haitink and the players bring out the inventiveness of Haydn’s writing very vividly, not least through their corporate and individual responsiveness to dynamic contrasts. This high standard is maintained throughout. So, for instance, the accompaniment to ‘Rollend in schäumenden Wellen’ is as vivid as the singing of Müller-Brachmann while the playing during ‘Auf starkem Fittige’ is simply delectable with some wonderful work from the woodwinds and, above all, from the principal flute. I notice that in his review of the Salzburg concert Mark Berry wondered if the orchestra might have been a little on the small side. That wasn’t something that worried me here but the microphones may have helped.

The chorus makes an equally distinguished contribution. What fine music they have to sing and they do it full justice. ‘Stimmt an die Saiten’ offers a fair representation of the alertness and precision with which they sing. The choir sounds to be quite large but they articulate the fugue in this number with admirable clarity. Later ‘Der Herr ist groß in seiner Macht’ is joyful and full of zest, as are both iterations of ‘Vollendet ist das große Werk’. This choir, splendidly trained by Peter Dijkstra, gives of its best throughout and I doubt that anyone purchasing this set will feel disappointed in any way by the choral singing.

Bernard Haitink conducts with distinction. In evaluating the Salzburg performance Mark Berry suggested that it perhaps lacked something of the sense of fun that a conductor such as Sir Colin Davis could bring to Haydn – and he might also have mentioned Beecham in this connection. Having heard and greatly enjoyed Davis’s very fine LSO Live recording from 2007 (LSO0628) I understand what he means – though I prefer Haitink’s soloists to the team that sang for Sir Colin. However, there’s so much to admire in Haitink’s conducting that if, on occasion, one misses a twinkle in the eye that is readily forgiven. Any lack of eye-twinkling is only relative, anyway; the teeming invention and wit of this score is done full justice here. Haitink paces the score to perfection and he brings out all the delights of Haydn’s scoring. His is a very fine performance indeed and I’m delighted to add it to my collection; I know I will return to it often not only for comparison with any future recordings that may come my way but also for sheer pleasure.

Though this is a live recording there’s scarcely any evidence of extraneous noises and the recorded sound is very good indeed. The booklet contains an interesting and informative note by Vera Baur. The text and translation is printed with commendable clarity of typeface.

Haydn’s miraculous score is extremely well served here.

John Quinn

Previous reviews: Michael Cookson and John Sheppard (Recording of the Month)