ALBUM TITLE: Haydn
WORKS: The Creation
PERFORMER: Lucia Popp (soprano), Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor), Benjamin Luxon (baritone); London PO & Choir/Klaus Tennstedt
CATALOGUE NO: 8
In 1791, Haydn visited London where, among a wealth of music from abroad, he heard the massed choral performances of Handel’s oratorios in Westminster Abbey. His experience provided a key stimulus for The Creation, surely the most sheerly charming of oratorios (though Haydn’s later The Seasons runs a close second). The Creation is a work whose grand choruses and extraordinary harmonic range – especially the at times almost keyless ‘Representation of Chaos’ – give it an epic dimension. This live recording, broadcast from London’s Royal Festival Hall in 1984, largely manages to convey these twin sources of its musical strength.
Conductor Klaus Tennstedt
had a middle-ranking career in Germany before coming to Britain, where his decade-long tenure with the London Philharmonic saw both him and the orchestra achieve collaborative wonders, especially in the central Austro-German repertoire that was his forte. Here he conducts a performance notable for its security of direction, though I should add that the LPO’s modern-orchestral soundworld is bass-heavy and there are some numbers that plod slightly when they should dance.
The chorus is strong-toned though occasionally imprecise. Altogether the best reasons for acquiring this German-language set come down to its three principals: baritone Benjamin Luxon is direct, firm and sensitive; tenor Anthony Rolfe Johnson is mellifluous and articulate; and soprano Lucia Popp is a more than welcome miracle of luminous tone and finely judged expression.
The chief drawback, though, is the recorded sound, which is thick and lacking in definition. Of modern-instrument performances, that factor on its own would prevent it from challenging Karajan’s Vienna Philharmonic version, while those wanting a more period flavour will look to John Eliot Gardiner and his English Baroque Soloists (on Archiv). George Hall