Haydn: The Creation

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: LPO
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.

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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.

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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