Performer: Sandrine Piau, Mark Padmore, Neal Davies
Orchestra: Gabrieli Consort & Players
Conductor: Paul McCreesh
Composer: Joseph Haydn
SPARS Code: DDD
Number of Discs: 2
Format: FLAC (image+cue)
Size: 564 MB
Gabriel – Sandrine Piau
Uriel – Mark Padmore
Raphael – Neal Davies
Eva – Miah Persson
Adam – Peter Harvey
01. Part One: The First Day: Introduction: The Representation Of Chaos
02. Recitative And Chorus: ‘In The Beginning God Created The Heaven And The Earth’
03. Aria And Chorus: ‘Now Vanish Befor The Holy Beams’
04. The Second Day: Recitative: ‘And God Made The Firmament’
05. Solo with Chorus: ‘The Glorious Heav’nly Hierarchy’
06. The Third Day: Recitative: ‘And God Said: Let The Waters ..’
07. Aria: ‘Rolling In Foaming Billows’
08. Recitative: ‘And God Said: Let The Earth Bring Forth Grass’
09. Aria: ‘With Verdure Clad The Fields Appear’
10. Recitative: ‘And The Heavenly Host The Third Day Proclaimed’
11. Chorus: ‘Awake The Harp, The Lyre Awake’
12. The Forth Day: Recitative: ‘And God Said: Let There Be Light.. ‘
13. Recitative: ‘In Brightest Splendour Rises Now The Sun’
14. Chorus And Trio: ‘The Heavens Are Telling The Glory Of God’
15. Part Two: The Fifth Day: Recitative: ‘And God Said: Let The Waters Bring ..’
16. Aria: ‘On Mighty Pens Uplifted Soars The Eagle’
17. Recitative: ‘And God Created Great Whales’
18. Recitative: ‘And The Angels Struck Their Immortal Harps’
19. Trio And Chorus: ‘Most Beautiful Appear, With Verdure Young Adorn’d’
20. The Sixth Day: Recitative: ‘And God Said: Let The Earth Forth The Living Creature’
21. Recitative: ‘Straight Opening Her Fertile Womb’
22. Aria: ‘Now Heaven In Fullest Glory Shines’
23. Recitative: ‘And God Created Man’
24. Aria: ‘In Native Worth And Honour Clad’
25. Recitative: ‘And God Saw Everything That He Had Made’
26. Part Two: The Sixth Day: Chorus And Trio (Gabriel, Uriel, Raphael): ‘Achieved Is The Glorious Work’
01. Part Three: Accompainied Recitative (Uriel): ‘In Rosy Mantle Now Appears’
02. Duet (Eve, Adam) With Chorus: ‘By Thee With Bliss, O Bounteos Lord’
03. Recitative (Adam, Eve): ‘Our Duty Have We Now Perform’d’
04. Duet (Adam, Eve): ‘Graceful Consort!’
05. Recitative (Uriel): ‘O Happy Pair’
06. Chorus: ‘Praise The Lord, Uplift Your Voices’ (Contralto: Ruth Massey)
McCreesh & Co.: Haydn Creation : English Libretto: Most Modern Yet Timeless
Okay first things first. This new recording of the English version of Haydn’s Creation oratorio goes right to the fav shelf. There you will also find several German language versions, plus a few English ones. Old favs tend to be big bands with conductors like Marriner/ASMF first set, Harnoncourt/Vienna SO first set, Munchinger/Vienna PO, Dorati/RPO, Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos on EMI. Newer favs tend to be period or smaller bands.
In English, the recorded competition boils down to two worthy contenders, both out of print and/or hard to find. One is on EMI with Sir David Willcocks leading King’s College (starring Heather Harper, Robert Tear, and John Shirley-Quirk). The other is even older (1965), and to my knowledge also distinguished by the oddity that so far it is only vinyl. This release failure stands out, since this USA Decca Gold Label Set set still flies uniquely strong and high among the great English readings. It was led by Frederic Waldman with Musica Aeterna, showcasing soprano Judith Raskin, tenor John McCollum, and bass-baritone Chester Watson.
When Universal Classics began to release some of the old back archives, I briefly hoped that the Waldman English set would be tagged for resurrection on remastered CD. Then I really got my hopes up when the three queen operas of Donizetti with Beverly Sills were refurbished, and some even more obscure Hermann Scherchen items. Alas, no cigar. I am contenting myself with computer hard drive music transfers via a LP turntable with a USB connection.
Fair disclosure requires me to say right out that I can often take or leave McCreesh in his prior outings. But on this oratorio, my ears tell me he and his band and his singers are all and each – right on the bullseye musical target.
Like the super audio Spering set, McCreesh is so comfortable with his original instruments that period practices are really not the point. McCreesh textures are clear, burning clear. Think George Szell in Cleveland’s golden stereo era. He dramatizes brilliantly and vividly, as do Spering and William Christie – but hews to an altogether less operatic-romantic conception. I wager a listener could put his Chaos – the musical introduction to the oratorio depicting an unformed cosmos before creation – up against anybody else who has so far bothered to record it.
His woodwinds are beautifully present and capable, just as the strings and brass hold true. His chorus (Chetham’s Chamber Choir) is entirely straightforward and direct, yet deep and brilliant in their varied angelic throng characterizations. His continuo is fortepiano, not harpsichord. Nobody hogs, nobody outshines, nobody grandstands – yet nobody is underplaying, under-singing, either.
I must admit that at first I had some passing worries about his soloists. Right from the first recitative of creation, the bass Neal Davies floats ethereally above the darkened firmaments. And any listener who has grown jaded with how the composer evokes that primal Light created in a blaze of C major chord will return to musical thrilldom, suspended in a spell of expert and magical chorus intoning God’s command just before the primal C Major sun fires up for the first time. The tenor Mark Padmore seems Davies’ equal, though at first I thought he tended to lose beauty and sheen when he pushed his tone and notes, just a tad too hard in some of the early recitative drama. Then I found myself warming to the tonal variety in his singing, as I thought at times that he phrased like Peter Pears with Britten at the keyboard, making up in expressive art what he temporarily risked in sheer tonal allure. By the end of the oratorio I was completely unfazed, thanks to Padmore’s gifts.
With soprano Sandrine Piau, I started off uncertain again. She too seemed to surrender tonal beauty and focus in some of her passing recitatives, in favor of drama and pushing the scene-setting narratives. Yet Piau always comes through in the soloist soprano heights Haydn so loves to pitch daringly against a lively choral background. And in the trio sections, she weaves and phrases and blends, all involved, all musically knowing, all charm, an undoubted musical equal to the tenor and the bass angels.
By the end of parts one and two, I really had come to believe that all three soloists were angels, aflame with intelligence, inspiration, and thus aptly qualified to be witnesses to the first primal creation.
So this leaves our vocal Adam and our vocal Eve. Adam is sung by baritone Peter Harvey, and Eve is Miah Persson. Solo and together, they are sheer luxury. And with ever so slightly bigger, warmer voices than the three angels, they do indeed sound like flesh and blood companions. Miah Persson has been a prior delight in Mozart and Faure-Durufle Requiems and Handel and Suzuki’s Bach Collegium cantatas. She is star soprano in Ivor Bolton’s Mozarteum super audio Haydn Schopfung, so reserving her for Eve is something extravagant. Peter Harvey has earned his recording chops in a great deal of early music, and yet here is that extra touch of oratorio character performance.
All in all, the set is a success that probably will endure. It’s been too long since we could listen to the English Creation, though those other readings of the German Schopfung rank highly and sound vivid or gorgeous or enthralling by turns. Part of the allure in this set is the size of the forces, enlarged according to the grand presentation concert in Haydn’s lifetime. Add this one to the shelf, and maybe we can still hope or dream of the Waldman being re-released – are you listening, Universal? Until that fabled day, the EMI with Willcocks and this set will hold the oratorio banner high in the English-speaking world.
Enthusiastically, emphatically – Recommended. All music, a keeper, a fav – add up plenty of stars.