HAYDN Die Schöpfung – Gardiner
With Gardiner’s first down-beat it is obvious that Chaos’s days are numbered. Not that ‘days’ (strictly speaking) are in question till the mighty words have been spoken, and then, in this performance, what an instantaneous blaze! No premonitory intimation (of pre-echo in the old days whereas now even the faintest stirring in the ranks of the choir will do it), but a single-handed switching-on of the cosmic power-grid and a magnificently sustained C major chord to flood the universe with light. This is one of the great characteristics here: the superbly confident, precise attack of choir and orchestra. It works to fine effect in the opening of “Stimmt an die Saiten” (“Awake the harp”), where the chordal rhythmic life of the announcement gains renewed joy in the energy of counterpoint and of semiquaver runs which the choir sing like a team of virtuosos who practise their scales for an hour each morning. In the other great choruses, “Die Himmel erzahlen” (“The Heavens are telling”) and “Vollendet ist das grosse Werk” (“Achieved is the glorious work”), the same vitality is maintained, with an admirably controlled steadiness of tempo in the first, and then just a degree of forward pressure permitted in the Allelujas of the second.
Enthusiasm, then, in plenty; but how about the mystery of Creation? It is certainly part of the aim to capture this, for the bass soloist’s “Im Anfange” (“In the beginning”) with pianissimo chorus has rarely been so softly and so spaciously taken: the Spirit that moved upon the face of the waters is a veiled, flesh-creeping presence, felt again in the first sunrise and the “softer beams with milder light” of the first moon. Even so, others have incorporated this element more naturally. In particular, the fascinating performance under Bruno Weil conjures up, with rather less deliberation, some memorably distinctive tones. The Representation of Chaos, for instance, is murkier than Gardiner’s, with muted brass and ominous timpani.
Weil’s recording presents itself as a strong competitor, not only in its use of authentic instruments but also in that it sometimes comes closer to what one might have foretold of Gardiner than does Gardiner himself. The brighter tempo and pointed accentuation of Uriel’s first solo, “Nun schwanden” (“Now vanish before the holy beams”) provides an example. Weil’s tenor soloist, Jorg Hering, also compares well with Michael Schade, who sounded fresher in the fine version made in 1993 under Helmut Rilling. Gardiner has by far the better Raphael in Gerald Finley, and gains from having extra singers for Adam and Eve, especially as the Eve, Donna Brown, brings a forthright style doubly welcome after the shrinking-violet manner and breathy tone of Sylvia McNair’s Gabriel. Her contribution constitutes really the principal reason – perhaps the single important one – for hesitating over an outright recommendation.
On the whole, Gardiner is sounder than Weil, who sometimes rushes: yet his is a fun Creation and a real enrichment of the library. Against others of comparable kind – Bruggen, Harnoncourt and Hogwood (L’Oiseau-Lyre, 3/81 – nla), for instance – Gardiner stands firm as an easy first choice: a re-creator of vision, a great invigorator and life-enhancer.'