By Joyce Tamer
Publicized in part by the Telegram & Gazette, April 27, 2009
Joseph Haydn penned the inscription “Laus Deo” at the end of his many compositions as an indication of his deep religious faith. He also enjoyed nature and possessed a joie de vivre. In his music, particularly in the oratorio The Creation, he was able to express all these facets of his personality.
During a sojourn in London, Haydn had been deeply moved by Handel’s oratorios and resolved to write in that form himself. For the first of his efforts in the form, he chose the creation of the world as the theme and used as text a portion of the creation story from the Book of Genesis as well as excerpts from Milton’s Paradise Lost. The Creation was written when Haydn was sixty-six years old, a product of his later years and conceived after he had already written his 104 symphonies. The work is scored for chorus, orchestra and soloists, who represented Adam and Eve and the angels Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel.
Michelle Graveline conducted the Salisbury Singers in their interpretation of The Creation in the beautiful setting of St. Stephen’s Church on Saturday. They were joined in part by soloists Diane Cushing, soprano, Allen Combs, tenor, and Steven Small, baritone, a small orchestra and harpsichord. The chorus’ numbers were increased with the addition of fifteen students who participate in the Advanced Chorus at Worcester Academy, a lovely gesture of community outreach and quite probably a thrill for the young singers to be part of such a large and excellent performance.
The angels in The Creation are the narrators of the story. In each recitative, they report on what has occurred and in the subsequent aria expand upon the events. Tenor Allen Combs, who was a last minute substitute for the announced tenor, was an excellent Uriel. His recitatives were dramatically delivered and the arias were musically and effectively sung. Baritone Steven Small, singing the angel Raphael in Part I of the oratorio as well as Adam in Part II, has a lovely, light baritone voice which unfortunately was often overpowered by the full orchestra. It also seemed that the lower notes of the part were not in a comfortable vocal range for him. Eve and the angel Gabriel were sung by Diane Cushing with a beautiful vocal quality that was unfortunately marred with intonation problems throughout her performance.
The chorus was very effective in singing the hymns of praise which followed the recitatives and arias. Their sound was relaxed and open and their singing, while reflecting Haydn’s religious fervor, was never overwrought or forced. Dynamics were tastefully done, intonation was excellent and parts were clearly delineated. The fugal section of the final chorus was particularly crisp and well executed.
The orchestra provided a stylish, lively and at times amusing accompaniment. Words of course are the most important aspect of an oratorio and Haydn skillfully wrote the orchestra part to enhance the text. But Haydn was a playful person and liked to incorporate musical jokes into his music, so the orchestra, as Haydn intended, provided the audience with doves cooing, cows lowing, nightingales singing and assorted other sounds which accompanied the creation of the world.
The Creation showcases Haydn’s powerful faith, his joy in the natural world and his gentle sense of humor. The Salisbury Singers and Michelle Graveline conveyed these attributes with a beautifully sung and stylishly performed account of one of Haydn’s most beloved pieces.