By Lawrence Budmen

During his visits to London in the final decade of the 18th century, Franz Joseph Haydn was greatly impressed by performances of Handel’s sacred oratorios. He resolved to compose a work in that distinctive genre. 

Setting a text based on the Book of Genesis and excerpts from Milton’s Paradise Lost, Haydn produced The Creation, a monumental score that combined the opulence of Baroque choral writing with classical repose and formal rigor.

Festival Miami 2007 concluded on Friday with an ambitious performance of Haydn’s masterpiece that brought the famed German choral conductor Helmuth Rilling to the UM Gusman Concert Hall podium. Rilling, the first conductor to record the complete cantatas of J.S. Bach, is nothing short of a musical magician. He welded the student forces of the Frost Chorale, Collegium Musicum, and Frost Symphony Orchestra into a refined, supple ensemble. 

Rilling’s genial, vivacious reading was marked by welcome urgency and forceful dynamics that telegraphed the Beethoven-esque thunderbolts that ring in the score’s subtext. The conductor’s spirited tempos were never rushed or breathless. Haydn’s picturesque depiction of storms, floods, mighty oceans and gentle streams was delineated with incisive, characterful animation. Rilling achieved lucid transparency of instrumental detail, coaxing delicately stylish playing that transcended the student level. Shen Wang’ s sweet, nimble oboe solos and Amanda Sparfeld’s sparkling flute obligattos were particularly distinguished. Sonorous horn calls and bold string exclamations (led by concertmaster Ashley Liberty) were sources of constant surprise and delight. 

The precise attack and solidity of the impressive chorus, superbly prepared by Jo-Michael Scheibe and Donald Oglesby, gave expressive ring to The Heavens Are Telling. Rilling infused warmth and tonal heft in the vocal ensemble, achieving a pinnacle in the glorious outpouring of Praise the Lord, the oratorio’s ecstatic conclusion. 

Haydn’s solo vocal writing requires tremendous flexibility. After more than three decades on the world’s operatic and concert stages, soprano Helen Donath’ s gleaming timbre and flawless coloratura remain miraculous. Her exquisite spinning of a vocal line is a model of great artistry and musicianship. 

Lothar Odinius’ noble, heroic tenor resounded in declamatory recitatives but turned dulcet in lyrical song. Nathan Berg’s fine light bass lacked ease in the low register. 

This Creation was that rare event when excellent individual performances coalesced into an ensemble effort that reached the level of the sublime.

Copyright Sun-Sentinel


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