Haydn: The Creation; Harmoniemesse

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: Sony
WORKS: The Creation; Harmoniemesse
PERFORMER: Judith Raskin, Alexander Young, John Reardon, Judith Blegen, Frederica von Stade, Kenneth Riegel, Simon Estes/Camerata Singers, Westminster Choir, NYPO/Leonard Bernstein
CATALOGUE NO: SM2K 47560 ADD
These two recordings (one old, one new) would be difficult to confuse. One is in American English: Robert Shaw has been using his own performing version since the Fifties, and it makes many improvements on the pretty awful standard text. Bernstein’s 1966 recording is in American German: Judith Raskin is the worst offender, but all the singers have a certain amount of trouble with their pronunciation. Shaw’s Atlanta recording has the advantage of a first-rate solo team. Dawn Upshaw’s Gabriel is arresting, as ever: her coloratura in ‘On mighty wings’ is considerably more attractive than the plodding orchestra. John Cheek is a characterful Raphael, and Shaw has chosen a superb Eve in Heidi Grant Murphy. His chorus is well-drilled and nimble, as one would expect; but it doesn’t make a very exciting sound, and it’s often difficult to make out the words. The rather dull Telarc recording is partly to blame, but Shaw’s pedestrian conducting must take some responsibility for the boringly genteel contribution of chorus and orchestra.

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Leonard Bernstein, on the other hand, was rarely boring. You can feel his presence all the time, shaping and urging on both chorus and orchestra. The former sounds more committed than its Atlanta counterpart, and receives more help from the engineers. But there are some bizarre moments: ‘The Heavens are telling’ goes at nearly half speed, and Bernstein slows up grotesquely at the end of Parts 2 and 3. He’s also let down by his soloists, though Alexander Young’s tenor is often impressive. No such problems on the generous coupling: an urgent account of Haydn’s Harmoniemesse, with a few rough edges but a fine solo quartet. Stephen Maddock