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The 21st Century Creationists

New York
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Centre
08/21/2009 -  & August 22
Franz Josef Haydn: The Creation (performed in English)

Carolyn Sampson (Soprano), Matthew Polenzani (Tenor), Peter Rose (Bass)
Concert Chorale of New York, James Bagwell (Director), Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, Louis Langrée (Conductor)

Carolyn Sampson (© Nina Large)

While few listeners can resist the lure of Haydn’s Creation, two kinds of listeners love the libretto.

The first is spiritual, high-minded, refined and aware of life’s finer things. This listener revels in “The Heavens Are Telling”, “With Verdure Clad” and the heaven-sent crescendo, “And There Was Light.” Another kind of listener, who must be classified as base, perverse, eccentric and downright devoid of truly marvelous art, can’t wait until Haydn, with the brush of a Richard Strauss, paints the “great beasts”, the horse, the buzzing insects and of course the worm.

I will never confess (er…reveal) in what category I place myself. But we must face facts, that the Classical, Enlightened, good Catholic Mr. Haydn must have loved putting those low strings to work in making the worm all too human.

And all too glorious in the eyes of God. For yes, Haydn, in the original English libretto (which he felt inadequate to understand enough for music) and the German libretto (still with words from the Old Testament and John Milton) must have indeed felt the glory of God. In fact, up until the rather bourgeois twitterings of Adam and Eve in Part III, The Creation is a most majestic work. In fact, substitute the word “universe” for earth, make the creations in terms of millions of years, and one has almost a Darwinian picture of the world.

This, though, is Haydn’s picture, albeit influenced by Handel and the English love of oratorios. Yet the orchestrations are far more picturesque than Handel’s, the dissonances at the beginning would never have been tried by the old Saxon, and the grandeur was never grander.

It’s difficult for any first-rate ensemble to do anything but make Creation a masterpiece, and Louis Langrée did the work proud. Not so much in his orchestra (which played with more refinement than enthusiasm) as the always wonderful Concert Chorale of New York, and three wonderful soloists.

The is essential. Haydn must have been excited at writing his choruses with such flourishes, such seamless fugal passages. But when Haydn set to music "Snow robed in cool refreshing green,” he must have chastely pictured the soprano singing it. When he thought of the bass singing, “Now God made the firmament”, he could have pictured his very human God performing just that.

The trio of soloists here were each different in outlook, yet this made things even more interesting. Certainly Peter Rose, the baritone-bass was the ultimate creator of Creation. I was present for his own creation as the Commendatore in a visiting Glyndebourne Opera team in Hong Kong. Also playing Bottom in Midsummer Night’s Dream that same week, he was a sensation.

It is even richer today. Not only did his voice (in the bass more than the baritone arias) reach dramatic pitrch, but when he rolled his rrrrr’s, one had to picture another creation, that of Michelangelo.

Matthew Polenzani(© Raymond Edwards)

Matthew Polenzani is familiar to Met audiences in New York so his tenor voice rang out. His was the middle interpreter between the dramatic Mr. Rose and Caroline Sampson, with her delicate textured soprano. Her arias and long recitatives were the model of Baroque sensibility.

One can never say too much about the College Chorale of New York. Haydn created some of the most complex choral sections in this work, but they sung with transparency, clarity and, most of all, with all the gusto that the work deserves. With the four-part fugue of “Aware The Harp”, their glorious voices seemed to wake every emotion which Haydn could ever create.

Harry Rolnick



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