After beginning the oratorio with a convincing representation of chaos, conductor Andrew Clark, the MIT Concert Choir, the Handel and Haydn Society Youth Chamber Choir, three soloists, and a small orchestra continued their rousing traversal of Haydn’s Creation at Kresge last Saturday.
The first two parts of Haydn’s oratorio depict the six days of Creation, while the third introduces us to Adam and Eve. Throughout, the chorus exhibited the requisite combination of discipline and exuberance. Following the orchestral representation of Chaos, Angel Raphael (bass-baritone Nathan Halbur) and chorus described the darkness that was earth. In hushed tones they recounted the word of God: “let there be light.” And in full fortissimo the chorus proclaimed, “And There Was Light.” Having achieved a wonderful ppp beforehand, the choral and orchestral forces let loose to powerful effect. In the Chorus that follows (no.3) the performers bore strong witness to Haydn’s drama. Descending triads in sequential imitative counterpoint depicted Hell’s rage. Then instantly the mood changed as the chorus sang of a “new created world.” In these and other rapid morphing moments, the chorus, exhibited precision, versatility, and lightness. In no. 11 “Awake the Lyre,” the Handelian spirit prevailed robustly, with multiple clear and precise entrances. The chorus held its sound against the full sound of the orchestra. In the last number of the first part (“The Heavens are Telling”) the trio of soloists joined in and at one or two moments the chorus seemed to lose its focus. However, the final series of chromatic modulations in no. 11 came across convincingly, leading to a blaze of concluding C major chords. The triumphantly extroverted concluding choruses, “Achieved is the glorious work” and “By thee with bliss, O bounteous Lord” showed tremendous enthusiasm. The choristers’ attention to the conductor and their clear enjoyment added to the positive energy.
It is in the arias and ensembles that we hear some of Haydn’s most elaborate tone painting and descriptive musical effects. In “Rolling in foaming billows,” soloist Nathan Halbur commanded the waves (rushing 16th notes), mountains (climbing arpeggios) and roaring seas, but yielded to a beautiful floating tone as the aria describes flowing rivers and limpid brooks. In Gabriel’s Aria “On Might Pen Uplifted Soars”, soprano Sarah Joyce Cooper depicted eagle, lark and dove. Haydn’s portrayal of the cooing of the dove (“and cooing calls the tender dove his mate”) proved particularly fetching; with the exception of a few swallowed vowels, she handled the quasi-coloratura part with ease and grace. Tenor Uriel (Arhan Kumar) sang of the creation of man (“And God created man” “In native worth and honor clad”). Haydn’s description of man (block chords in dotted rhythm) gives way to tunefulness as the text describes Eve. Kumar’s gave heartfelt engagement with every word enunciated clearly. Kumar’s musical expression of the text had revealed itself in Aria 3 where he seamlessly moved from an airy sound (“holy beams”) to a thicker, heavier one (“gloomy, dismal shades of dark”).
We felt the influence of opera in Adam and Eve’s final episode (“Graceful consort”). Halbur and Cooper weaved their solo lines effortlessly, but in what is a love duet, they should have interacted in some way.
It would take an endless number of pages to describe Haydn’s marvelous orchestral effects. The ascending scales of the clarinet, flute and bassoon bring us further into the first movement void that is chaos. Myriad flute solos enhanced the pastoral pleasure that accompanies God’s creation of the animal kingdom. Tremolos in the strings describe insects. A crawling, low melody depicts the worm. The bassoon gave an understated but comic take on “by heavy beasts the ground is trod.” The orchestra brought off these and other witty episodes quite convincingly.
Incorporating Handel’s choral style, with Mozart’s operatic effects, and his own mastery of the orchestra, Haydn created an immortal homage to God, man and earth. The worthy effort of these MIT ensembles reminded us once again of the Austrian master’s unsurpassed contributions to the Western canon as well as an appreciation of the wealth we can expect from our well-provided area’s many presenters.
Retired medical biology researcher Dinah Bodkin is a serious amateur pianist and mother of Groupmuse founder Sam Bodkin.