Persuasive Reading of Haydn’s Creation by Venerable Bernard Haitink

United StatesUnited States  Haydn, The Creation: Klara Ek (soprano), Ian Bostridge (tenor), Hanno Müller-Brachmann (bass-baritone), Chicago Symphony Chorus (Duain Wolfe, director), Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Bernard Haitink (conductor), Orchestra Hall, Chicago, 28.10.2011 (JLZ)

Haydn’s oratorio The Creation remains evergreen after two centuries, and its strength emerges in performances like the one that the Chicago Symphony gave this week. The venerable Bernard Haitink conducted a complete performance, which featured three international soloists: Klara Ek, Ian Bostridge, and Hanno Müller-Brachmann. The stylish orchestral playing of the CSO was evident from the start, with a nicely textured reading of the instrumental “Depiction of Chaos.” Likewise, the Chicago Symphony Chorus demonstrated its polished sound in “And the spirit of God,” which led to the powerful tone-painting that accompanies its concluding line, “and there was Light.”

As to the soloists, Ian Bostridge, delivered Uriel’s aria “Now vanish before the holy beams” effectively, with his thoughtful phrasing and locution underscoring the text. In the aria “In native worth,” the tenor’s musical intensity carefully shaped each line. Such attention is important for the recitative that opens the final part of The Creation, of which Bostridge gave an equally persuasive reading.
Soprano Klara Ek gave an equally convincing performance, with her facile voice rendering Gabriel’s melismas with clarity and distinction. While she was a bit understated in the first aria, “The marv’lous work,” her interpretation of the famous passage “With verdure clad” was exemplary, and the contrasting section, “here shoots the healing plant,” was touching. In the more extroverted “On mighty pens,” Ek and the orchestra brought out the tone-painting implicit in the score, with some fine details such as the “cooing” of the bird. And in the penultimate passage in the second part, “On thee each living soul awaits,” Ek showed her talent with ensemble work, and in the third part, her music with Müller-Brachmann at the end was nicely phrased, with a fine sense of style.

Bass-baritone Hanno Müller-Brachmann sang the parts of Raphael and Adam. While there were some occasional pitch problems in the upper range of his solos, his voice was secure in its resonant lower register, especially in the recitative “Be fruitful all.” His rendering of the aria “Now heav’n in fullest glory” showed him in full voice, and keenly attuned to the interactions with the orchestra. And in the final section, Müller-Brachmann took a dramatic approach, further characterizing Adam through gestures and facial expressions as he interacted with Ek as Eve.

The chorus was convincing throughout, with a fine sense of pitch and timbre. While “The heavens are telling” is quite well known, it sounded even fresher here, thanks to the singers’ attention to detail. In other moments like “The Lord is great,” the subtleties of the chorus were outstanding. And the ensemble’s focus and finely balanced sound were particularly moving in the finale, “Sing the Lord, yet voices all.”

Bernard Haitink, a beloved figure in Chicago, found tempos that made sense, coupled with an ability to get the orchestra to deliver its best. While performances of The Creation are not rare, Chicago audiences had the opportunity to hear it executed with the kind of care appropriate to this crowning work of Haydn’s career.

James L. Zychowicz