Incredible as it may seem, last night's performance of Haydn's "The Creation" in Meyerhoff Hall was the first that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra had ever given. It was a performance worth waiting for.
Music director David Zinman has a special way with the masterpieces of the 18th century, and last night's performance was no exception. He was able to bring out the grandness of the music at the same time that he made the music pulse with life. (The way other conductors treat this music is enough to make one believe that God took more than six days to create the world.)
Zinman understands that this music is all about dark and light. The music begins with a 13-minute section in C minor that sometimes drifts precipitously close to atonality. That darkness bursts gloriously into gigantic C major chords, and later in the piece the first sunrise is depicted with a magnificent sustained -- crescendo. The subtlety of his control of rhythm and phrase made the range of the score's light and shade even wider than is usually the case.
Not the least of the felicities of the performance -- and this is especially important in Haydn -- was the way in which the conductor underlined the music's humor. In Haydn's music, as in many of the masterpieces of the late Enlightenment, the humorous and the sublime need not be mutually exclusive.
The Baltimore Symphony Chorus sang impressively -- with weight that never eschewed clarity of detail -- and so did the soloists.
The best of them was tenor John Aler, who sang the Angel Uriel. His first entry was beautifully judged -- many tenors are tempted to shout here -- and he sang his arias with imagination and beauty of tone.
Bass Jan Opalach (the angel Raphael and Adam) sang with richness of tone but occasionally made one wish for a little more subtlety -- particularly at the end of the sixth number.
Harolyn Blackwell (the angel Gabriel and Eve) has a lovely voice, but while she sounded agile and brilliant, she never provided the tenderness and warmth that the music calls for.
My only real objection to the performance was that it was sung in German. (Haydn wrote the piece to be performed in English as well as in German.)
The performance will be repeated tonight at 8:15 and tomorrow at 3 p.m.