HAYDN The Creation (Orozco-Estrada)
Haydn’s vision of a benignly ordered universe is in many ways a no-fail work. This new version, seemingly recorded at two or more concerts (though the error-ridden booklet is vague on this), is well played and sung. On its own straightforward, extrovert terms it’s enjoyable, up to a point. Yet straightforwardness in The Creation will only carry you so far. Compare Andrés Orozco-Estrada with, say, Colin Davis or Bernard Haitink in the opening ‘Chaos’ and you’ll hear the difference between solid competence and a real imaginative engagement with the music’s still-shocking strangeness. Here and elsewhere both older conductors are alive to Haydn’s evocation of what the 18th century termed ‘the sublime’. Orozco-Estrada is more earthbound. The slight rigidity of his beat, allied to a lack of a true pianissimo (not entirely the fault of the recording), is confirmed again and again as the work unfolds, whether in the bass’s meteorological recitative, No 3, the chorus ‘Die Himmel erzählen’, whose latter stages never achieve lift-off, or the duet and chorus in Part 3 (titled by Haydn ‘Hymn’), where the march foreground is stressed at the expense of the music’s hushed awe.
Although they are slightly recessed in the balance – a frequent fault in larger-scale Creation recordings – the 100-strong chorus sing with robust vigour. Yet unlike Davis in his similarly scaled live recording, Orozco-Estrada fails to whip up the tension at the choral climaxes, not least because brass and timpani are unnecessarily subdued. All the soloists have fine voices, though none match the best of their rivals on disc. The vibrant-toned Nicole Heaston is impressive but too generalised – and word-shy – as Gabriel and Eve. A delicately softened tone, say, in Haydn’s ever-delightful depictions of the dove and nightingale, does not seem to lie within her orbit. In fairness, Heaston is hardly helped by Orozco-Estrada’s prosaic beat in her two arias.
Peter Rose’s resonant Wagnerian bass certainly catches the authority of Raphael. With the deep ‘underlay’ to his tone, you can predict a sonorous low D on ‘Gewürm’ long before it happens. But his bluff, no-nonsense style means a lack of mystery in his opening recitative and God’s injunction to ‘Be fruitful all and multiply’, with its shrouded accompaniment for lower strings. In keeping with the whole performance, Toby Spence makes a forthright Uriel, effectively so when putting Hell’s Spirits to flight or describing the first created man. Elsewhere, above all in Haydn’s depiction of the first woman, I often wished for more lyrical tenderness and a true, ‘bound’ legato. There are intermittent pleasures here. But I hope I’m not showing national bias if I suggest that for a German-language performance on a similar scale, Colin Davis, with the LSO on glorious form, wins hands down.