14 April 2014

CD REVIEW: Franz Joseph Haydn – DIE SCHÖPFUNG (I. Falk Winland, A. Staples, D. Stout, R. Davies; T. Eipperle, J. Patzak, G. Hann; Fra Bernardo fb 1301272 & fb 1312522)

Franz Joseph Haydn - DIE SCHÖPFUNG (Fra Bernardo fb 1301272 & fb 1312522)

FRANZ JOSEPH HAYDN (1732 – 1809): Die Schöpfung, Hob. XXI:2—(1) Ida Falk Winland (Gabriel, Eva), Andrew Staples (Uriel), David Stout (Raphael), Robert Davies (Adam), Kate Symonds-Joy (alto soloist in final chorus); Musica Saeculorum; Philipp von Steinaecker, conductor [Recorded ‘live’ in performance in the Dom zu Brixen, Brixen, South Tyrol, Italy, on 12 September 2012; Fra Bernardo fb 1301272; 2CD, 102:00; Available from Amazon, ClassicsOnline, jpc, and major music retailers] and (2) Trude Eipperle (Gabriel, Eva), Julius Patzak (Uriel), Georg Hann (Raphael, Adam); Chor der Wiener Staatsoper; Wiener Philharmoniker; Clemens Krauss, conductor [Recorded ‘live’ in performance in the Großer Musikvereinssaal, Vienna, Austria, on 28 March 1943; Fra Bernardo fb 1312522; 2CD, 100:00; Available from Amazon, ClassicsOnline, jpc, and major music retailers]

​For reasons that defy logical explanation, it remains fashionable to disparage the music of Franz Joseph Haydn. Prevailing opinion has suggested that Haydn’s music lacks inspiration and that, unlike Mozart, the older composer pandered to the social order of which he was a part rather than transcending its boundaries. It is true that, during his time in service to the powerful Esterházy family, Haydn was equal in the aristocratic hierarchy to kitchen servants, but he enjoyed something far greater than status: artistic freedom. There were obligations of his position, of course, but even in the fulfillment of his duties he was largely unmolested in his exploration of the originality that grew from the physical and musical remoteness of Esterháza. By the time of the première of Die Schöpfung in 1798, Haydn was already an old man by 18th-Century standards, the days of the circumstantial innovation of his tenure at Esterháza in the distant past, yet the novelty that glistens in virtually every number in Die Schöpfung remains incredible. From the post-Stravinsky perspective of 21st-Century listeners, neither the impact of the harmonic ambiguity and unresolved cadences of the Prelude's depiction of chaos nor the explosive modulation to C Major upon the creation of light seems radical, but to the cultivated Viennese of 1798, whose musical tastes were influenced by the conservative Baron van Swieten and his loves for Bach and Händel, these were the marks of legitimate progress. In many ways, Die Schöpfung is the first monumental choral work of Romanticism: without it, Beethoven's Missa solemnis, the Masses of Schubert and Weber, Mendelssohn's Elijah and Paulus, Rossini's Petite messe solennelle, Verdi's Messa da Requiem, Brahms's Ein deutsches Requiem, Britten's War Requiem and Tippett's A Child of Our Time would all have been impossible. As Voltaire wrote of God, had Haydn never existed, it should have been necessary to invent him. Haydn invented himself, however, and never more sublimely than in Die Schöpfung.

Two releases from the young Fra Bernardo label offer the listener a veritable victor’s spoils of celebrations of Haydn’s genius. The first, a recording of a 2012 performance of Die Schöpfung from Brixen Cathedral, preserves an account of the score that employs Haydn’s preferred English translation dating from 1803, the year in which the composer’s autograph score was lost. Conducted by Philipp von Steinaecker, the choristers and orchestra of Musica Saeculorum combine the finest qualities of historically-informed performance practices with robustness that compellingly limns the pioneering expressivity of the score. Recorded with excellent balance, spaciousness, and sonics that avoid all of the pitfalls of recording live performances, this performance grants Haydn’s music the grandeur that it deserves without bloating the score into an unstylish behemoth. Vincent Ranger’s Hammerklavier continuo keeps secco recitatives shapely without rushing, and the playing of the period-instrument ensemble is wonderfully vibrant but precise. The chorus of twenty-two voices—including such accomplished singers as mezzo-soprano Kate Symonds-Joy, who takes the alto solo line in the final chorus with distinction, and tenor Guy Cutting—credibly puts forth both the power and the poise demanded by Haydn’s choral music. In Part One, the sheer exuberance of the depiction of the creation of light is arresting, and the joy of ‘Awake the harp, the lyre awake’ is thrillingly depicted. In this performance, ‘The heavens are telling the glory of God’ is not mere rhetoric: the choristers send rousing sounds soaring into the firmament. The great chorus ‘Achieved is the glorious work’ in Part Two is sung with ringing passion, and the performance of ‘Sing the Lord, ye voices all,’ the final chorus with soloists, is both monumental and heartfelt. The quality of the solo singing matches the excellence brought to the performance by the chorus and orchestra. The gleaming, slightly tremulous voice of soprano Ida Falk Winland sails through Gabriel’s music with assurance and ideally angelic poise, her singing of ‘The marv’llous work’ and the celebrated ‘With verdure clad the fields appear’ beautiful and ebullient. The soprano solo lines in ‘The heavens are telling the glory of God’ and ‘Most beautiful appear’ are sung with focused tone, and Ms. Falk Winland’s account of ‘On mighty pens uplifted’ is blithe and alluring. In Eve’s music in Part Three, Ms. Falk Winland sings radiantly, showing real affection for her Adam, who is charmingly sung by baritone Robert Davies. Tenor Andrew Staples sings personably as Uriel, the heady gracefulness of his voice counting for much. In fact, it is regrettable that so much of Uriel’s music is recitative, but Mr. Staples sings every line of his part with firm tone and exemplary diction. His singing in ‘The heavens are telling,’ ‘Most beautiful appear,’ and ‘Thou lett’st thy breath go forth again’ is truly gorgeous, and his performance of Uriel’s aria ‘In native worth and honour clad’ is noble but touching. Baritone David Stout is a lightweight Raphael, but he has all the notes for the part, descending into his lower register without forcing the tone. ‘Rolling in foaming billows’ is vigorously sung, and the gravity of ‘Now heav’n in fullest glory shone’ is projected to great dramatic effect. Like his colleagues, Mr. Stout sings strongly in ensembles. All of the performers in this Schöpfung communicate the most exalted sentiments of the text with unflappable musicality, the the resulting performance reveals the wit and magnitude of Haydn’s sagacity anew.

The wartime performance of Die Schöpfung in Vienna’s Musikverein conducted by Clemens Krauss needs no introduction, but it has never been heard in sound as superb as in Fra Bernardo’s restoration. The sonics are imperfect, but within moments the years fall away, and the heart of this remarkable performance throbs more engrossingly than ever before. Under Maestro Krauss’s inspired leadership, the singing of the Wiener Staatsoper Chorus and playing of the Wiener Philharmoniker are extraordinary. One of the foremost achievements of Fra Bernardo’s engineering is the immediacy with which the soloists’ voices are placed within the soundscape. The bright timbre of soprano Trude Eipperle is free from distortion even at the top of the range, and her voice sounds more relaxed and resonant than on almost any other recording. Her technique is equal to every demand of Haydn’s music, and her tone shines as the vocal lines climb. Legendary tenor Julius Patzak is heard at something near his best, the timbre dry but unfailingly expressive. Not all of Uriel’s lines are completely comfortable for him, but he expectedly gives his all in service to the music. Bass-baritone Georg Hann is defeated by some of the bravura passages, but the voice has extraordinary presence. In the straightforward utterances of recitatives, his virile tone peals through the music strikingly. As in the more recent performance, Fra Bernardo’s engineering maintains naturalness of balance with minimal intrusions by extramusical noises. This is a performance that deserves to be heard in the best sound possible, and Fra Bernardo’s edition provides that unobtrusively but insurmountably.

As exponents of old and new traditions in Die Schöpfung, these performances are bizarrely complementary. More than many recordings of this score, these two approach Haydn’s music with clear-sightedness and artistic integrity. These are unforgettable performances of Die Schöpfung that are gifts both to Haydn and to listeners who treasure his art, and the skill and love that the Fra Bernardo label has lavished on these recordings are uplifting—and nothing less than the music deserves.