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Invigorating musical start to the New Year

08.01.2020


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Widely considered to be Haydn’s masterpiece, The Creation (Die Schöpfung) - depicting and celebrating the creation of the world as described in the Book of Genesis - received a wondrous and telling performance at the Bartók National Concert Hall (Müpa Budapest) on New Year’s Day with Ádám Fischer on top of his game conducting the famed Austrian baroque-music ensemble Concentus Musicus Wien - co-founded by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Alice Harnoncourt in 1953 and admirably led by Erich Höbarth - while the choral forces came from the Purcell Choir (celebrating this year its 30th anniversary) and still under the direction of its founder, György Vashegyi, who drills them well. What a wonderful start to their special year.

The libretto for The Creation - which was first heard at the Burgtheater, Vienna, in March 1799 receiving its London première at Covent Garden a year later - came from the pen of the Austrian nobleman, Baron Gottfried van Swieten, who also provided Haydn with the libretto for The Seasons. 

In so many ways, one has to thank Handel for Haydn’s oratorios as the composer made several visits to London in the late 18th century and heard Handel’s works in all their consummate glory performed by large choral forces and, in all probability, he wanted to achieve the same result by using the musical language of a mature classical style. 

One of Handel’s works that Haydn so much admired, Israel in Egypt, includes various episodes of tone painting which, perhaps, proved an inspiration to the composer in his own pervasive use of this device in The Creation particularly in the passages of the appearance of the sun and the creation of the beasts but, above all, in the overture depicting chaos before the creation.
A sparkling trio of soloists - who were absolutely adorable to listen to in the confines of the near-acoustically perfect Bartók National Concert Hall which, incidentally, opened in 2005 and seats just over 1,650 - were thoughtfully brought together by Maestro Fischer comprising Hungarian-born singers Emőke Baráth (soprano) and Dávid Szigetvári (tenor) and German-born baritone Thomas E Bauer. In Parts I and II, the trio represent the archangels - Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael - who narrate and comment on the successive six days of the creation while Part III introduces the characters First Man and First Woman of the Bible, Adam and Eve, during the time they spent in the Garden of Eden before the Fall.

The Purcell Choir of 37 voices added their musical weight and knowledge to an even and well-read performance especially in the monumental choruses such as ‘Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes’ (The heavens are telling the glory of God) majestically heard at the end of Part I while in Part II the chorus and trio performed wonderfully ‘Der Herr ist groß in seiner Macht’ (The Lord is great in his might) while in the recitative passage that followed telling of the creation of the animals - ‘Gleich öffnet sich der Erde Schoß’ (At once Earth opens her womb) - Mr Bauer truly captured the spirit and sounds of the animals especially in relation to the ‘roar’ of the lion to the amusement of a packed house and, indeed, his fellow soloists, while Concentus Musicus Wien showed orchestral colour and strength throughout a scintillating and mesmerising performance that was absolutely enlightening and fulfilling to the last bar. Therefore, Maestro Fischer, please take an extra bow!

On an historical note, the last performance Haydn attended of The Creation was on 27th March 1808 just a year before he died. Aged and in poor health he was carried aloft into the concert-hall with great pomp and ceremony on an armchair. According to one account, the audience broke into spontaneous applause at the coming of ‘Light’ heard at the beginning of the work and Haydn, in a typical gesture, weakly pointed upwards and said: ‘Not from me - everything comes from up there!’ Indeed, it does!

The last word, however, goes to Papa Haydn who prophetically said: ‘I was never more devout as during the time that I was working on The Creation. Every day I fell to my knees and prayed to God to grant me the strength for a happy completion of this work.’ I think his prayers were answered!

Haydn’s The Creation:
Emőke Baráth (soprano), Dávid Szigetvári (tenor) and Thomas E Bauer (baritone)
Concentus Musicus Wien, Purcell Choir, cond. Ádám Fischer
Bartók National Concert Hall (Müpa Budapest).


Tony Cooper

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