Joseph Haydn wrote Die Schöpfung (“The Creation”), based mainly on the Book of Genesis and Paradise Lost, when he was in his mid-sixties—a ripe old age in 1798. Yet in its delightful melodies and brilliant scoring, the oratorio reveals a sheer adoration of life that few classical vocal compositions of any era can match. With its combination of profound reverence (the creation of light is one of music’s great speaker-busting moments) and playfulness (instrumental evocations of cows, worms and whales prefiguring “Rock Lobster”), it’s like the joyful, animating link between Mozart’s Magic Flute and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The work focuses on Adam and Eve’s sublime happiness, barely glancing ahead at the troubles to come.
Haydn published the oratorio in both German and English, and preferred for anglophone audiences to hear the latter. That’s why, a few lickety-split tempos aside, the main reservation about Martin Pearlman’s new set is his choice to deploy three very fine American solo singers in the German text. They fare solidly; splendid, agile bass Kevin Deas is particularly attuned to verbal nuance. But a good, modern English-language Creation is needed; moreover, Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s 2004 Schöpfung from Vienna is hard to beat.
Even so, Pearlman’s expert Boston players and vocalists—Deas; deft, ultra-charming Met tenor Keith Jameson; and springwater-clear soprano Amanda Forsythe, who aces her ravishing arias and scatters delightful trills—make this well-recorded set a delight—David Shengold
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