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Haydn Die Schöpfung (comp: René Jacobs; orch: Freiburger Barockorchester) Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Jacobs’s impeccable Creation is fresh and often illuminating.

Graham Rogers 2009

A sensation at its Viennese premiere in 1799, Haydn’s joyous oratorio telling the Biblical story of the creation of the world remains among the best-loved of all choral works. There is no shortage of excellent recordings of The Creation, but René Jacobs’s new version, sung in German, offers much to distinguish it.

With the exemplary period-instrument musicians of the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra at his disposal, Jacobs revels in Haydn’s vibrant writing. From the explosive opening of the Representation of Chaos – which bristles with eerie strings, pungent woodwind, wonderfully scrunchy horns and moments of mesmerising quietness – to the graphic depictions of churning oceans, roaring lions, leaping tigers and swarming insects, few recordings bring the score to life so vividly. The playing is also outstandingly precise (the pizzicato chord prefacing the glorious blaze of C major light has never sounded so unanimous), highlighting a wealth of inner detail. Nimble articulation and rhythmic bite ensure buoyancy.

The trio of soloists is exceptionally strong. Each has an attractive voice and superb technical skill, and they blend well. Julia Kleiter’s creamy tone and flare for stylish ornaments beguile in “With verdure clad” (even if she doesn’t have the sparkle of a Gundula Janowitz or Lucia Popp). Her Adam and Eve duets with Johannes Weisser are blissful; Weisser himself gives a storming rendition of “Now heaven in fullest glory”, helped by Jacobs’s spritely tempo, and digs out a fruity low D for the sinuous worm. Idiomatic fortepiano accompaniment means the ‘dry’ recitatives are anything but: the pianistic impression of angelic harps is especially delightful.

The peerless RIAS Chamber Choir displays immaculate diction and clean, full-bodied tone, but the big chorus numbers lack the exhilaration of live performance. Though the heavyweight London Symphony Chorus under Colin Davis can’t match the RIAS Chamber Choir for clarity, their LSO Live release (June 2009) has an uplifting spontaneity missing from Jacobs’s studio-bound version. The recording is sharply focused but lacks a sense of scale, placing the listener unnaturally close.

Jacobs’s impeccable Creation is fresh and often illuminating, but it doesn’t achieve the spine-tingling exuberance of Davis or Herbert von Karajan in his classic Deutsche Gramophon account.

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