in: Reviews

October 23, 2011

Boston Baroque Lets There Be Creation

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Soloists Amanda Forsythe, Keith Jameson, and Kevin Deas (Julian Bullit photo)

On October 21st, the Boston Baroque orchestra and chorus, led by Martin Perlman, performed Franz Joseph Haydn’s oratorio, Die Schöpfung (The Creation) at Jordan Hall. Three estimable soloists joined the ensemble: soprano Amanda Forsythe, tenor Keith Jameson, and bass Kevin Deas. Many will remember Forsythe’s stunning performance in the title role of Agostino Steffani’s opera Niobe, given in full staging as part of the most recent Boston Early Music Festival. Jameson has performed with opera companies across the United States, as well as a number of engagements in Europe. He recently took part in Opera Boston’s production of Smetena’s The Bartered Bride. Deas, a frequent soloist with Boston Baroque as well as a number of Boston-area groups, has sung with a number of prestigious opera companies and choral groups across the country.

The very satisfying concert featured a number of exceptional performances. As always, Perlman’s direction was solid, leading the ensemble through the work’s many challenging sections while creating an overall pacing which matched the dramatic narrative well. The orchestra was responsive to Perlman’s direction and realized Haydn’s orchestral “sound effects” and tone painting in engaging fashion, though with a few more technical incidents than one normally hears from this group. The chorus, with its crystal-clear tone, was precise in its articulation of the text as well as musical in its execution of longer textual phrases. Bass soloist Kevin Deas, with his warm, “plush” sound, displayed an especially impressive level of engagement with the words, to the extent that one should not describe it as “effective” (as it did not give the impression of an “effect”) but rather as a natural state of being. Soprano Amanda Forsythe displayed an incredible level of facility and control in the execution of challenging technical passages. In Parts I & II of the oratorio, however, these technical displays occasionally seemed to create some disengagement with the rhetorical aspects of the text, though this issue completely disappeared as she entered the character of “Eve” in Part III (to Deas’s “Adam”). Tenor Keith Jameson’s warm, round sound gave voice to the angel Uriel’s graceful recitatives and arias. The German text and its English translation was printed in the concert booklets, rather than being projected as supertitles, which led to the concert’s only technical issue, namely a few moments of disruptive paper rustling as the audience members followed the text.

Period brass instruments and John Grimes's special tympani at Mechanics' Hall session (Julian Bullit photo)

Part I opens with the orchestral “Representation of Chaos,” the first of Die Schöpfung’s many musical representations, as the shape of musical matter slowly emerges from sonic chaos. Bass soloist Deas then intoned the text with an intense but dignified reading of Genesis 1:1 (“In the beginning…”). The chorus responded with equal dramatic intensity, leading to the dramatic announcement of the first appearance of light in the world (“and there was LIGHT!”). Another highlight of the opening section was the depiction of the first sunrise, “In vollem glanze steiget” (In full brightness rising), as the orchestra and tenor soloist Jameson created a very moving build-up to match the depiction of the full glory of the sun’s light.  Another strong statement by the chorus and soloists capped this section.

Part II features a slower pace than the other two large sections with its comparatively high number of reflective (and therefore dramatically more static) arias. Many of these arias serve as examples of Haydn’s incorporation of Mozart’s compositional style into this work, a tendency that may have been meant as a gesture of respect to the recently deceased composer, whose city (Vienna) hosted Die Schöpfung’s premiere. The melody of the angel Gabriel’s aria, “In holder Anmut,” for example, bears a strong resemblance to the popular duet, “La ci darem la mano,” from the younger composer’s famous opera, Don Giovanni. Musical representation again came to the forefront in the well-known recitative on the creation of the animals, “Gleich offnet sich der Erde schuss” (The earth straight opening her womb), as the orchestra depicted the style of physical movement of each of the animals, followed by an announcement of each one’s arrival by the bass soloist. Part II closed with the choral celebration of creation’s completion, “Vollendet ist das grosse Werk” (Completed is the great work.)

Part III is a depiction of the first dialogue between Adam and Eve (Deas and Forsythe, respectively). The dramatic interplay intoned by the two soloists concluded with a graceful solo from Jameson. This dialogue, along with another rousing closing chorus (each of the large sections is closed with a chorus that features a long fugue), provided a very satisfying conclusion to the event.

A pre-concert recording session at Worcester’s Mechanic’s Hall is expected to yield a recording for commercial release in the spring.

Joel Schwindt is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in musicology at Brandeis University. In addition to performances as a vocalist and conductor, his writings have been published by the Baerenreiter-Verlag publishing house and the Choral Journal.

6 Comments

  1. The rustling of program pages was a very small problem indeed compared to the pleasure of hearing this fine piece so well performed. I left Jordan Hall completely satisfied.

    I had facetiously remarked that if Harold Camping were correct that October 21 was the date of the end of the world, hearing “The Creation” was appropriate in a way. Full circle, I guess. But I have subsequently realized that Georg Philipp Telemann’s “Der Tag des Gerichts” would have been even more appropriate, if it had truly been Last Night. So here’s my suggestion to the early music ensembles: how about “Der Tag des Gerichts” some time while I’m still around to hear it. 

    Comment by Joe Whipple — October 23, 2011 at 9:42 pm

  2. Today’s Globe review reminds me of one unfortunate little bit. During Adam and Eve’s duet, Ms. Forsythe made coquettish and ironic gestures with her eyes and facial expressions, drawing chuckles from the audience. It seemed to me that this indicated she wasn’t taking the text seriously, that she was disrespecting the work; and it was unfortunate that she did so. Apart from that, however, I still think it was a fine performance all around

    Comment by Joe Whipple — October 25, 2011 at 12:22 am

  3. Joe, you must have been entranced by Amanda Forsythe (as I usually am) to not notice Kevin Deas making far more overt facial expressions, and to charming effect. It got a chuckle out of me… and while Haydn might not have approved, Mozart sure would have. :) Seriously though, unless you are concerned about the flippant treatment of a fairy tale, there was no disrespect to the work at all. 

    Comment by cold genius — October 25, 2011 at 7:21 pm

  4. The only blasphemy I see here is you daring to criticize Amanda Forsythe.

    Comment by cold genius — October 25, 2011 at 7:22 pm

  5. Thanks everyone for the comments!

    Although I’m not certain whether or not we have reliable information regarding Haydn’s spiritual state of being in the 1790s, we should bear in mind that he had dealt with criticism regarding the “flippancy” of his mass settings earlier in his career (in particular the “light-heartedness” of his “Kyrie” settings). Generally speaking, Vienna was comparatively liberal regarding issues of the performance and nature of sacred music (in comparison, for example, to the conservative policies put forth by Bishop Colloredo in Mozart’s hometown of Salzburg); as such, it is at least *possible* that the characterization of Adam and Eve in this work was meant to be less than reverent, though as mentioned above, we really cannot be certain.

    Comment by Joel Schwindt — October 25, 2011 at 9:20 pm

  6. Well, if any early music group takes up my suggestion that they perform “Der Tag des Gerichts,” I hope they’ll play it straight, and leave it up to audience members to come up with their own flippant or ironic reactions, mental reservations, theological quibbles, facial expressions, etc., if any.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — October 26, 2011 at 12:47 pm

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