Haydn The Creation/Roger Norrington

0 of 5 stars

Die Schöpfung (The Creation)

Christiane Oelze (soprano)
Scot Weir (tenor)
Peter Lika (bass)

RIAS Chamber Choir

Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Sir Roger Norrington

Recorded March 1990 in Kammermusiksaal der Philharmonie, Berlin

Reviewed by: Graham Rogers

Reviewed: July 2008
PH07074 (2 CDs)
Duration: 1 hour 37 minutes

This account of “The Creation” sprints into life with what must surely be the fastest ‘Representation of Chaos’ ever recorded. There is little sense of mystery in Roger Norrington’s hectic vision of a pre-creation cosmos, but it’s such an exhilarating ride that he just about manages to pull it off (although I certainly wouldn’t want to hear it like this every time). His tempos for the rest of the work are much less extreme.

Inspired by the late-18th-century English vogue for Handel’s oratorios, which Haydn experienced during his visits to London, “The Creation” was conceived on a correspondingly grand scale. This performance uses much more modest forces and at times comes across as too lightweight. The intimate feel offers some rewarding insights, but too often fails to do justice to the majesty of Haydn’s score.

First and foremost, “The Creation” is a choral work and, despite producing a nice sound, the RIAS Chamber Choir is rarely capable of the exuberant impact of larger groups. The choral-singers are not helped by Norrington’s curiously erratic direction: the big finales to Parts 1 and 2 have a strangely lacklustre feel, missing the edge-of-seat excitement of versions as diverse as Christopher Hogwood and Herbert von Karajan’s Vienna version; but the conclusion to Part 3 is gloriously dynamic and driven, proving that it all could have been like this.

The excellent soloists give variable performances. Peter Lika has a well-grounded voice and brings out the fun and theatricality of moments such as the leaping tiger; but it is a pity he doesn’t risk plumbing the depths for the earth-bound worm. Christiane Oezle’s soprano has an ideal tone, light but with a satisfyingly rich bloom; but there are a few too many wayward moments in the faster passages for comfort. Scot Weir is the least engaging, but he still makes some enjoyable contributions.

The wind and brass of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe are superb, bringing out lots of wonderful inner detail. The strings are less consistent, however; the accompanied recitatives are often flabby with little dramatic bite. The recorded sound is clear and immediate.

There are some very fine moments in this account of “The Creation” (the extended duet and chorus with Adam and Eve at the start of Part 3 is especially vibrant), but the field is too strong for this to be a firm recommendation. Far more successful is the performance of “The Seasons”, from a year later, the subject of a separate review.

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