Recording of the Month – January/February 2016

How wonderful for an organisation to be celebrating 200 years of performing The Creation! Part One of Haydn’s masterpiece was performed in Boston on Christmas Day, 1815 by the Handel and Haydn Society to a rapt audience of about 1,000 people. It’s hard to imagine how the 13 instrumentalists on that occasion coped with Haydn’s colourful score and supported the chorus of 90 men and ten women, but the pioneering spirit of that performance has born lasting fruit: H+H is still going strong, as this excellent recording attests.

Harry Christophers, the current Artistic Director of Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society eschews the ‘blockbuster’ approach of Paul McCreesh’s 2008 account and opts instead for medium-sized forces: a chorus of 42 accompanied by an orchestra of 47 that perform in Boston’s hallowed Symphony Hall. This means that tempi are on the whole slightly more flowing and less monumental, allowing some of the more intimate moments to shine through.

Haydn’s English text has always been troublesome. Christophers adopts a less interventionist approach than McCreesh, with the happy result we still have some favourite turns of phrase: the “flexible tiger”, “with verdure clad” and “the wonder of his works displays the firmament”. By the same token “to heav’n erect and tall, he stands a man” is less ambiguous than “Erect, with front serene, he stands, a man”.

Christophers has chosen three fine British soloists, each very attentive to text. Sarah Tynan ably negotiates the high C in The Marv’llous Work and is indeed a ‘graceful consort’ in Part Three. Jeremy Ovenden is a fine Uriel, and his In Rosy Mantle is particularly touching. Matthew Brook proves himself appropriately versatile, providing both vocal heft (Rolling in Foaming Billows) and charm (Of Stars the Fairest) as needed.

Haydn’s use of the orchestra is one of the great glories of this oratorio and the Bostonians do not disappoint. From the representation of chaos, the majestic appearance of light, the first sunrise and then the appearance of water, whales and worms through to the creation of man and woman, the period instrument band responds to each scene with freshness and enthusiasm.

Singing with admirable commitment and empathy, the chorus also makes a wonderful contribution, combining with the other forces to reinforce the optimistic, joyful outlook of the work as a whole. Here is a splendid antidote to world weariness. Do yourself a favour and have a listen.

Related: Harry Christophers discusses the act of creation