`Creation' is heaven, thanks to Choral Arts

May 25, 1999|By David Donovan | David Donovan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

E.T.A. Hoffman once wrote that listening to Haydn was like taking a walk in the country. The Baltimore Choral Arts Society and director Tom Hall took Hoffman's image to heart on Saturday with a nearly flawless account of Haydn's choral masterpiece "The Creation."

The performance got off to a flying start with a boisterous and riveting realization of the opening overture representing Chaos. This orchestral prelude has enough shifting harmonies and thundering brass to please even the most ardent Wagnerian.

The orchestra delivered everything in this music.

Haydn put possibly the most famous passage of the entire work right after the overture with a recitative and chorus setting of the text "... and God said: Let there be light, and there was light." The dynamic explosion at the second utterance of the word "light" can sometimes be anticipated too early. Hall and his ensemble exploded at just the right moment with stunning results.

The Creation employs three soloists, chorus and orchestra. The soloists and orchestra were excellent, but the members of the chorus captured the glory of this evening.

They didn't just sing their music, they lived and breathed it. The dynamic contrasts were exemplary; the diction was clear; the ensemble was airtight.

One note about the edition used in this concert. Hall employs an English translation of the score and in his program notes he gave persuasive reasons for using it.

This listener still prefers the German used by the composer in the 1798 premiere in Vienna. For example, the German word "licht" sounds more heavenly than the English word "light."

The translation did keep Haydn's music intact and didn't try to modernize the language.

The vocal soloists were good to excellent.

Best of all was baritone David Evitts in the dual roles of Raphael/Adam. He sang a true pianissimo in the famous opening recitative that was still wonderfully focused. His voice doesn't quite have enough bottom range but he gave the maximum with what his voice can deliver.

Tenor Richard Crawley in the role of Uriel was a true friend of Haydn throughout. He caught the simplicity of the music perfectly. Less successful was soprano Linda Mabbs as Gabriel/Eve. Her grand opera style wasn't always a good thing.

Many times she was singing Verdi and everyone else was singing Haydn.

However this was a strong and evocative rendition of this great score.

This "Creation" was a rousing conclusion to the Choral Arts Society's 33rd season.

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