Annapolis Chorale triumphs with Haydn’s ‘The Creation’

Performance mixes in images from Hubble telescope

May 01, 2010|By Mary Johnson, Special to The Baltimore Sun

Annapolis Chorale music director J. Ernest Green closed the group's classical music season last weekend on a triumphant note with two performances of Joseph Haydn's "The Creation."

Haydn's 1798 oratorio — scored for soprano, tenor and baritone soloists, chorus and orchestra — tells the story of the six days of creation. During the chorale's performance, it was given a powerful visual dimension through projected Hubble telescope images of Earth. Haydn and Hubble became a harmonious pairing, along with Renaissance masters Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, whose depictions of the creation of man joined hundreds of photos illustrating the infinite variety of human beauty.

Green's mix of Haydn's classical-era music with Hubble's visions of Earth was a breathtaking multi-dimensional musical revelation of our shared human beginnings.

Generally considered to be Haydn's masterpiece, "The Creation" is a monumental-scaled work that uses a large orchestra and chorus to describe God's creation of the world and of man.

The work begins dramatically with the orchestral prelude, bringing a vast grandeur as drums thunder to represent early chaos in melodic fragments, then evolve into a modern-sounding dissonance of the void before the first day of Creation. Under Green's direction, the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra brilliantly established the initial mood of the piece.

Next is a clear, affirming recitative of "In the beginning God created Heaven and Earth," followed by an aria with the full chorus, bringing vocal grandeur to the division of the waters on the second day. A beautiful "Awake the Harp" chorus welcomes the third day, when land, sea and plant life were created.

A magnificent, spacious drama occurs on the fourth day with "And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament," achieving a shining musical peak when the music pauses before the chorus sings.

Representing the archangels Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel, soprano Amy Cofield Williamson, baritone Jimi James and tenor Andre Bierman told the story of the first six days of the world, combining Genesis and John Milton's "Paradise Lost" in an English version by Robert Shaw.

Williamson as Gabriel created several exquisite passages, including a soaring "On Mighty Wings," which contained graceful fioritura embellishments produced with a natural ease. Her work in the trio "From thee O Lord doth all proceed" displayed vocal assuredness, and her Eve in "the Garden of Eden" segment reflected a shimmering innocence.

James as Raphael delivered a resounding sixth-day "animals" segment enumerating a vast array of creatures, from the mighty lion down to the lowly worm, investing an inspiring majesty to these animals.

Bierman as Uriel was most impressive in the recitative describing the shining splendor of the heavens with the giant sun and silver moon. He is a consummate storyteller who brings elegant singing and precise diction to his every word.

And baritone Jason Buckwalter delivered a memorable performance as an ardent Adam to Williamson's Eve.

The chorale/orchestra combination defined synergism in the performance, with the full orchestra enhancing the glorious sound of the chorus. Although the multimedia presentation sometimes repeated slides, especially of scenes featuring Disney-like rainbows.

Despite this minor reservation, the visual presentation was a bonus. In a post-performance discussion, multi-media designer Jonathan Deull said that assembling the visual production was an ongoing process made up of artwork that illustrated "the unbelievable beauty of Earth."

This concluding classic concert reflected the intrepid Green's need to stretch beyond the conventional to bring new insight to musical masterworks and to a concept as profound as the creation of the Earth and the heavens and all life forms.

Coming up
The final event on this year's Live Arts Maryland calendar is the second offering of the NoteWorthy Encounters Series, a program designed for about 100 people where a piano and chamber chorus reveal new aspects of a large scale work. Next will be "Carmina Burana Undressed!" at 7 p.m. May 14 and 15 at St. Anne's Parrish House at 191 Duke of Gloucester St. Find out what is behind the scandalous reputation of Carl Orff's beautiful work. Tickets are $37 each. Information or to buy tickets: liveartsmaryland.org.
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