Herreweghe has come to explore the vocal works of Haydn rather late in his career, and yet his interpretation of Haydn's The Seasons (Die Jahreszeiten) was so elegant that one would believe the conductor to be a lifelong advocate of Haydn's large vocal works -- an interpretation that is so comfortable and natural, that one unfamiliar with Herreweghe's long and illustrious career would think him a modern Antal Dorati. I had high hopes for his follow up recording of Haydn's magnificent oratorio, The Creation (Die Schöpfung), and this recording has exceeded my expectations.
Though much of Herreweghe's career has been so focused on the Baroque (the cantatas of Bach) with the occasional foray into the Classical and Romantic, this exploration of Haydn's late classical work which so effectively looks forward to the Romantic era, yet continues the grand oratorio tradition of the Baroque, is one of Herreweghe's crowning achievements. It is refined, but not too well mannered. His Collegium Vocale Gent and Orchestre des Champs Elysees may have a reputation for a restrained sound -- at times too smooth around the edges. Yet Herreweghe's late career has presented a kind of vitality and vigor that gets the blood pulsing (compare his first and second recordings of Bach's Magnificat, and you will find a new excitement in the latter effort). The music of The Creation benefits from balance between Herreweghe's old lyricism which fits the elegant melodies of Haydn's music, and the crispness of Herreweghe's newer stuff.
Such a balance is so necessary to this monumental work: the creation of light ("und es ward Licht") is explosive and brilliant, the separation of the waters from the land is whirling, tempestuous example of Sturm und Drang, and the famous recitative of bass feature a surprisingly illustrative Orchestre des Champs Elysees. Herreweghe employs the German version of the libretto, and makes a wise choice of utilizing native German speakers of this work, and this is perhaps the best recording in the original language (McCreesh has my vote as the best recording of the English version).
The work is deceptive in its simplicity because it truly does demand much of the orchestra, chorus, and singers. Happily, Christina Landshamer and Maximilian Schmitt reappear from their initial appearance in The Seasons. Landshamer's silkly soprano fits Haydn's elegant lines perfectly, which makes her a standout in this particular recording. As a masterpiece of choral music, this work demands dramatic shifts in dynamics and the ability to sing complex counterpoint with counterpoint and clarity with large, multi-voice-per-part forces. While we think of the Collegium Vocale Gent as experts in the restrained sacred work of Bach, they are equally comfortable in the works of Mendelssohn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms. This recording of The Creation showcases the limits the chorus's true potential: from the pianissimo description of primordial chaos, to the fortissimo first appearance of the rays of light, to the brilliant fugal writing in Stimmt an die Saiten, Herreweghe's troupe sounds within its element.
The subject matter, which is based on antiquated, 17th century Miltonian material and pre-Darwinian creation mythology, is nonetheless given a gorgeous and natural porto-Romantic treatment by Herreweghe and his talented team. There are bits of improvised flourishes from the fortepiano continuo which remind one of the recordings of Rene Jacobs, enough to give the recording a distinctly 18th century flavor. The orchestra features a more rounded sound, albeit with a strong timpani and brass section and full, deep-sounding cello and contrabass, which acoustically places this oratorio at the bridge between the Classical and Romantic. It is a sound that's rivaled only by the English recording by Paul McCreesh and his Gabrieli Consort for DG. The duet between Adam and Eve in third part is perhaps the finest on record and exudes Romantic sentiment that one easily forgets the Biblical underpinnings of the subject matter, and more about human's appreciation of the foregoing descriptions of the natural world.
A good classical musical library must have an excellent rendition of The Seasons to sit alongside choice recordings of the St Matthew Passion, Mozart's Requiem, Mass in B Minor, Messiah, the Ninth Symphony, and other mainstays of choral writing. This recording by Herreweghe would be my recommendation, along with that of McCreesh for those preferring the English translation.
Haydn: Die Schopfung CD, インポート