Review: ISO performs Haydn's The Creation

Douglas Boyd was the guest conductor for the ISO this weekend, which performed The Creation, Joseph Haydn's last religious work.

4 stars

Hilbert Circle Theatre

Feb. 18-19

It’s been 23 years since the

Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra last performed Joseph Haydn’s

The Creation, a massive religious work drawing its text from

the Book of Genesis, the Book of Psalms and Milton’s Paradise

Lost. Aside, perhaps, from his earlier operatic ventures (mostly

curiosities today), this was the 66-year-old Haydn’s longest

musical work (1798) written to that date — possibly equaled by

his subsequent oratorio The Seasons, from 1801 (ending his

composing career, though he lived another eight years).

Scottish conductor Douglas Boyd

gratefully assumed the podium for a monumental triumph of High

Classicism, this Haydn oratorio one of Boyd’s professed

all-time favorite works of any stripe. Though using a smaller

orchestra than what is found in later religious works, Haydn calls

for three trombones and even a contrabassoon, augmenting forces he

typically used throughout his 100-plus symphonies.

The Indianapolis Symphonic Choir —

in full complement — stood on a tiered platform just back of

the players, making for a crowded stage. Three solo singers—soprano

Sarah Tynan, tenor Thomas Cooley and baritone Matthew Rose —

joined Boyd in front of the ensemble.

The Creation is cast in three

parts, the first dealing with God’s creation of the inanimate

forms: the earth, the heavens, the seas, the sun, moon and stars,

here mostly drawing from Genesis. Part 2 is involved with the

creation of life: specifically the beasts of the earth, the birds,

the fishes and “ev’rything that moveth.” (The text

fails to point out the creation of plant life — though certain

“meadows,” etc. are mentioned in passing; is this

somebody’s oversight or is my question perhaps blasphemous?)

The final part, of course, tells of

Adam and Eve’s creation, of their great, innocent love of God

and for one another. It stops with only a warning of the impending

“original sin”; the composer clearly did not wish to

delve into that.

Haydn begins his work with his

orchestral conception of “Chaos,”— i.e. before

Creation — painting as dark a mood setting as his Classical

discipline would allow. Boyd immediately had his strings playing

“white” (i.e. no vibrato) with as near a perfect pitch as

I could discern. The effect, sustained throughout, fit the mood and

the style perfectly.

Boyd knew what he wanted from his

players, and mostly got it. Each of the soloists shared their

vocalism equally in recitatives and arias in which the orchestra

often set the mood prior to its textual equivalent, most especially

in Rose’s Part 2 recitative, ”Straight opening her

fertile womb.”

The choral work confirmed the ISC’s

longstanding reputation throughout as an excellent singing body, in

precise consonance with the soloists and players. I would have

preferred hearing more of the fugal writing so intrinsic a part of

Handel’s great oratorio choruses—wherein he makes them

really soar. But we had two good Haydn examples to savor, each in the

final respective choruses of Parts 2 and 3.


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