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GRAMOPHONE (02/2022)
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Alia Vox

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Reviewer: Richard Wigmore

Haydn conceived The Creation on the grandest possible scale, as evidenced by the 200-odd performers in the 1799 public premiere. With a choir of 20 and an orchestra based on just 17 strings, Jordi Savall goes to the opposite extreme. The ultra-resonant acoustic can give the illusion of larger forces, sometimes at the expense of clarity. Yet time and again the choral climaxes fail to blaze. The most obvious case is the end of ‘Die Himmel erzählen’ (‘The heavens are telling’), where the ensemble creaks and the five tenors make a pretty feeble stab at their long-held top A – a potentially thrilling moment that goes for nothing here.

Savall draws alert, colourful playing from his slender forces, though the acoustic tends to muffle the impact of brass and timpani in the big choruses. The woodwind, including a notably poetic first clarinet, make the most of their delectable opportunities. Except in the rather ponderous final chorus of Part 2, Savall’s tempos are unexceptionable. I like the space he gives to ‘Chaos’. But his beat can be rigid, as in the tenor’s ‘Mit Würd’ und Hohheit’ (‘In native worth’) or the sublime duet with chorus ‘Von deiner Güt’’ (‘By thee with bliss’) in Part 3, which here becomes a determined march.

Savall’s soloists are decent, no more. Korean soprano Yeree Suh, with a pure, rather instrumental timbre, sings sweetly enough as Gabriel and Eve, yet misses a crucial sense of wondering radiance. The words hardly seem to matter to her. Tenor and baritone, both with agreeable lyric voices, also tend to blandness. Lacking a true bass depth, Matthias Winckhler dispatches his weather report and zoological extravaganza with minimal relish, let alone humour, and sounds oddly disengaged as Adam. Eve responds in kind. On this showing you wouldn’t give their marriage much of a chance.

In a personal booklet note, Jordi Savall writes of his lifelong affection for Haydn’s music. Performing and recording The Creation during 2021 was evidently a labour of love. There are orchestral felicities to savour here. Yet the joy and mystery of Creation – and the sheer physical impact of Haydn’s choruses – are more vividly realised in a raft of other recordings. My own favourites include Gardiner (Archiv, 4/97), Harnoncourt (DHM, 5/04), Antonini (Alpha, 11/20) and Paul McCreesh (Archiv, 3/08), whose superb English-language performance comes closest of all to the scale of that 1799 Viennese premiere.

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