Haydn's The Creation

Bostridge, Matthews, Henschel; London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Colin Davis (LSO Live LSO0628)

22 May 2009 4 stars

Haydn's Creation

Continuing his series of choral works on LSO Live – which has so far featured Handel's Messiah and Mozart's Requiem, with Verd's Requiem to follow in September – Sir Colin Davis has turned his attention to Haydn's Creation.

Surprisingly, it's the octogenarian conductor's first account of the work on record, even though he's performed it many times in concert, and he leads a lively, light-footed rendition on the whole, featuring three fine soloists, beautiful orchestral work and rousing singing from the London Symphony Chorus.

As ever, I'm interested by Davis' approach to the orchestral writing. We live in a time when it's terribly unfashionable to perform music of the eighteenth century with anything other than a period instrument orchestra, and Sir Colin is often grouped into those who aren't interested in the performance practice of the Enlightenment. But it's clear enough from this Creation that he has pondered the issue and taken on some of what this performance practice movement can tell us, especially so far as overall texture goes; although plenty of vibrato is used, Davis ensures that the strings play with a lightness of touch, and notes are never held on for longer than their strict value.

As a wind player himself, Sir Colin always revels in the woodwind writing of all the works he conducts, and in such a pastoral oratorio as The Creation, that's particularly beneficial. Even in big choruses such as 'Vollendet ist das grosse Werk' the flutes are fully audible, though the wind playing in the trio 'Zu dir, o Herr, blickt alles auf' is even more achingly beautiful.  The use of the harpsichord is also brought to the front of the texture in Davis' account, here vividly realised by the LSO Live engineers, something else that keeps the performance firmly rooted in the Classical period.

The three soloists are a felicitously well-matched team. While Ian Bostridge's tenor sounds momentarily strained in 'Mit Würd' und Hoheit angetan', I've rarely heard him give such an impassioned performance in any work as he does in this release. Slightly darker colours are creeping into his voice, and the effect is entirely attractive.

Other sopranos might glide more smoothly through Haydn's lines than Sally Matthews does, but again she's an active and emotional interpreter. An example of this is in Gabriel's 'Auf starkem Fittiche schwinget sich': Matthews is not always absolutely perfect in the runs, but she manipulates her voice to great expressive effect from start to finish.

Perhaps the most satisfying of the three is Dietrich Henschel's baritone, both warm in tone and technically agile. He hits his stride in the second part, with a wonderfully detailed rendition of the recitative describing the creation of the Earth's creatures followed by an alert performance of 'Nun scheint in vollem Glanze der Himmel' (Now heaven in fullest glory shone).

The LSC excels as it always does in these big choral masterworks, with excitement always taking precedence in their performance. Rationally, one knows that a smaller, specialist choir would be able to achieve more interestingly nuanced results, especially when it comes to the articulation of the words, but it would take a harder heart than mine to resist the LSC's jolly, full-blooded rendition of the closing fugue, or indeed any part of this fantastic score.

Available at bargain price, this is another huge triumph for LSO Live.

By Dominic McHugh


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CD Review: Mozart's Requiem on LSO Live
CD Review: Beethoven's Mass in C on LSO Live
CD Review: Tippett's A Child of Our Time on LSO Live
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