musica Dei donum

Concert reviews

Haydn (FJ): Die Schöpfung, oratorio in 3 parts (H XXI,2)
Vasiljka Jezovsek (soprano), Steve Davislim (tenor), Hanno Müller-Brachmann (bass), RIAS Kammerchor, L'Orchestre des Champs Elysées/Philippe Herreweghe
concert: Utrecht, Oct 18, 1999

Haydn's oratorio Die Schöpfung is still one of his most popular works. It is performed all over the world every year, although not few people have their problems with the text. Philippe Herreweghe so far hasn't made a recording of this work. Maybe the live performances he gave during 1999 were a preparation for a CD-recording. When the quality of the live performance I attended in Utrecht is any indication of the quality of such a recording, then that is something to look forward to.
The performance made a very good start with the orchestral overture, which illustrates the chaos before the creation. The very unusual harmonies - unusual for that time, of course - with a lot of chromaticism, came across very impressively, helped by the use of period instruments. In a way, the 'old' instruments with their sharp edges make the music sound even more 'modern' than modern instruments would. During the whole performance the orchestra was very convincing. The many solo contributions - in particular in the second part, where Haydn uses the instruments to portray the animals mentioned in the text - were all excellent.
It is hardly necessary to say anything about the RIAS Chamber Choir. In the last ten years or so the choir has developed into one of the best early music choirs, and has made many brilliant recordings of 18th and 19th century music. It came up to the high expectations. The first chorus "Und der Geist Gottes schwebte" with the famous ending "und es ward Licht" was very impressive, just as the glorious ending of the oratorio "Singet dem Herren alle Stimmen".
What about the the soloists? Let me start with the bass, Hanno Müller-Brachmann. A young German singer, whom I have heard for the first time in a recording of Telemann's opera Orpheus, in which he was brilliant. Later on I heard him in Bach's B-minor Mass, and that was a major disappointment. But in this performance he just left nothing to be desired. I was especially pleased by his interpretation of the recitatives, which he sang in a very free rhythm, directed by the text rather than the music. Recitatives should be spoken rather than sung, and that is just what he was doing. The almost visual descriptions in his recitatives were performed with strong expression.
A pleasant surprise was the young Australian tenor Steve Davislim. Since 1994 he is a member of the Zurich opera, where has sung roles in operas by Mozart and Rossini. He has a very pleasant, somewhat light voice, which makes him very suitable for this sort of repertoire. At some moments I had liked him to use a little less vibrato, but in general he gave a very good performance of his rather small role.
The soprano Vasiljka Jezovsek is certainly the best known of the three soloists. She has sung with many early music specialists like Herreweghe, Koopman, Schneider and Hengelbrock. I am not always pleased by her performances, and in this concert she wasn't always quite convincing. Especially the lower register was sometimes a little too weak to keep up with the orchestra, and I would have liked less vibrato from time to time. But the way she sang the aria "Auf starkem Fittige", in which a number of birds are illustrated in the music, was very beautiful and there she blended very well with the orchestra. She and Müller-Brachmann were able to find a warm and 'personal' touch in the third part, with the duets of Adam and Eve.
In general it was a very beautiful and expressive performance, which hopefully will appear on CD in the near future.

Johan van Veen (© 1999)

Concert reviews