All the artists involved in this magnificent production have covered themselves in glory. The three young singers are splendid in every way and are complemented by one of the best choirs I have ever heard, the RIAS Kammerchor under the direction of Hans-Christoph Rademann. The key word throughout is clarity -- of diction, line and phrasing. The engineers have given us exemplary sound and a silent background that allows the voices and instruments to emerge in all their glory.
The Frieburger Barockorchestra and conductor René Jacobs, who were not at their best in their recent Mozart Symphony recording, sound absolutely at home in Haydn, playing with full vigor and sublime expression in this overwhelming oratorio.
For those unfamiliar with The Creation, who know their Haydn from the symphonies, quartets, trios, concertos and sonatas, this composition will come as a revelation, if you can excuse the biblical metaphor. Toward the end of his life Haydn, at the peak of his powers and fame, he sought to cap his achievements with a work of the highest quality. Call it one for the ages. He takes all his inventiveness and virtuosity into a new plain of composition here, a work the equal of and inspired by Handel's great oratorios. Haydn's traditional robustness and humor are replaced with seriousness of purpose and dramatic storytelling, including the imitation of nature (birds, thunderstorms etc.) and the highest levels of orchestral and choral refinement. The only previous hint of this musical spirituality is in his String Quartet, opus 51 The Seven Last Words of our Saviour on the Cross. The Creation joins Messiah, the St Matthew Passion, the Bach B Minor Mass, Mozart's Requiem, the Missa Solemnis, the Brahms Requiem and the Verdi Requiem at the very pinnacle of religious expression in music. It also stands at the very peak of Haydn's output, as intended.
This particular production, using original instruments, is clearly a labor of love, and I have no doubt involved an enormous amount of preparation by all concerned in order to achieve absolute accuracy in phrasing and ensemble. The music still sounds absolutely spontaneous and flows inexorably from first bar to last. The pace is generous, and yet the music pulses with life, color and drama. This is a very mature interpretation by a most accomplished conductor at the height of his powers. In fact Jacobs never seems to "interpret" at all. He simply allows the composer to speak, and gives his soloists the space and freedom show their artistry. The album, spread over two CDs, comes with a lavish booklet and a 23 minute DVD showing the creation of The Creation.
This work is one of the few masterpieces of classical music of which I have no recording, so I cannot tell you directly how it compares with other performances of the same work. I can only say it is among the finest performances on original instruments that I have heard in any work, and that I cannot imagine this degree of articulation, transparency and freshness from any modern instrument performance. René Jacobs deserves enormous kudos for this project, and the recording engineers have outdone themselves in capturing his achievements on disc.