Haydn’s The Creation – Freiburg Baroque Orchestra/René Jacobs

Die Schöpfung [sung in German]

Gabriel & Eve – Julia Kleiter
Uriel – Maximilian Schmitt
Raphael & Adam – Thomas Quasthoff

RIAS Chamber Choir

Freiburg Baroque Orchestra
René Jacobs

Reviewed by: Graham Rogers

Reviewed: 10 January, 2009
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

The Barbican Hall was packed for the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra and René Jacobs – both very much hot properties following a recent stream of acclaimed recordings. Jacobs has a gift for bringing the music of the Classical era to life with gripping dynamism, but with the music as the driving force. From the opening ‘Representation of Chaos’, a startlingly original piece, Jacobs and the peerless Freiburg players held the audience in rapt attention.

Thomas Quasthoff’s rich, honeyed tones emerged with exquisite mellifluousness from the becalmed, swirling void, marvellously setting the scene for the spine-tingling, glorious fanfare eruption on the immortal line, “And there was Light”. He invested terrific energy and character, relishing the “foaming billows” and leaping tiger, and producing a wonderfully resonant and sustained low D for the “sinuous worm”.

Although less well-known, the other two soloists were equally impressive, coping well with Haydn’s virtuosic demands, displaying great sensibility and communicating an infectious enjoyment of the music. Kleiter’s aria extolling the soaring eagle, sensitively and effortlessly ornamented, was a highlight, as was Schmitt’s ‘In native worth’. All three soloists blended with rare beauty in the trios, but the most moving numbers were the duets between Adam and Eve in Part 3: Kleiter and Quasthoff seemed made for each other, singing with true delight and breathless wonder.

The 32-strong RIAS Chamber Choir made a magnificent sound, helped by the singers’ placement at either side of the orchestra. Lively and alert, the choir’s ensemble was impeccable, but never exaggeratedly so – the singing was fluent. Some numbers disappointed slightly (‘The heavens are telling’ never quite caught fire), but this was due to Jacobs’s occasional refusal of letting-go of his tight reins rather than lacklustre singing.

Jacobs brought out a plethora of detail in Haydn’s fabulous score: the bass trombone made its vibrant presence felt, and not just in the pictorial passages (such as the roaring lion); the rest of the winds and brass shone vividly. The superb Freiburg strings scampered athletically with the “nimble stag” and “sprightly steed”, although too often their wings were clipped by Jacobs’s excessive insistence on shortening note values.

Jacobs made the curious decision to render all appoggiaturas dotted, so that what we are used to hearing as elegant equal grace-notes stuck out as ‘Scotch snaps’ – to uncertain effect. Another less than convincing aspect of the performance was the over-elaborate role for fortepiano continuo. The pianistic impression of angelic harps before the end of the Fifth Day was a nice touch but the florid – if stylistic – ad lib passages inserted into the secco recits seemed unnecessary. Jacobs was careful to keep the pace moving at all times: numbers followed each other with seamless flow.

The final chorus (sensibly featuring four soloists from the choir) sparkled and thrilled. Qualms about Jacobs’s eccentricities aside, this “Creation” was sheer joy, conveyed with rare passion and commitment. If all the Haydn performances in this 200th-anniversary year of his death are as good, then Haydn-lovers are in for a treat. But perhaps more importantly, the composer should win himself many new fans.

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