HAYDN The Creation
Astonishingly, Haitink waited until he was 82 to conduct The Creation for the first time. Yet his profound sympathy for Haydn’s opus summum is everywhere evident in this live recording, taken from two Munich performances in 2013. Haitink is predictably superb in movements that encapsulate the 18th-century notion of ‘the sublime’: in the opening evocation of Chaos, which combines a majestic breadth with a sense of infinite strangeness; in the hushed, awed chorus as God’s spirit moves over the waters; or in the first sunrise, where Haitink conjures a magnificent fullness and depth of sonority from his Bavarian players. Rarely, too, has the portrayal of the first dawn in Paradise sounded so radiant, with seraphic playing from the trio of flutes.
With eager, firm-toned singing from the professional choir, the neo-Handelian fugal choruses unfold with a wide dynamic range and a powerful sense of inevitability. Haitink’s tempi – say, in the trio and chorus ‘Der Herr ist gross’ – are often on the smart side but never feel hard-driven. A word, too, for the witty fortepiano continuo, whose creative touches include a delightful suggestion of angelic harps in the recitative before the trio ‘In holder Anmut steh’n’.
As in so many Creation recordings, reservations centre on the soloists. Slightly strained in her opening ‘Mit Staunen sieht das Wunderwerk’, Camilla Tilling settles down for her two solo arias, sung with smiling, vernal tone and an evident pleasure in the words. Mark Padmore, thoughtful and involving as ever, sounds a touch over-forceful in ‘Nun schwanden vor dem heiligen Strahlen’ – the first lyrical music in the oratorio – but catches all the mystery of the moonrise, and the tenderness of Haydn’s depiction of Eve. Hanno Müller-Brachmann begins well, with a hushed, veiled ‘Im Anfange schuf Gott’, and palpably enjoys his zoological narration in Part 2. In his two arias, and his duets with Eve, he tends to bluster like a basso buffo, with biffed high notes and scant regard for a sustained line.
This new recording has much to offer, above all Haitink’s noble and exhilarating direction. But for an often similarly conceived performance in German, my vote would go to Colin Davis on LSO Live, for his more consistent solo team, and for playing of even more character and colour that includes a dash of echt Haydnesque fun.