All well in Paradise? Haydn’s The Creation in Salzburg Festival
Pulsating bands of energy. Psychedelic colours. Lightning flashes. Billowing galactic mists. Multiple shades of black stir our innermost fears… The apocalyptics of Hollywood’s cinema screens would need two hours to achieve this, but Haydn and Jordi Savall at the Felsenreitschule take only two minutes.
Whales and worms heave and writhe. Birds trace delicate loops in the sky. There, too, we see the handsome couple, eager to please their Creator. All is well in Paradise. Jordi Savall and his ensembles La Capella Nacional de Catalunyaand Le Concert des Nations play Haydn’s The Creation. And this time “a new world” springs not from the word of God, but from the conductor’s baton. The representation of chaos at the beginning of the 1798 oratorio is in itself a revolutionary sound painting such as would be the envy of 20th and 21st century spectralists. Within seconds, Jordi Savall and his band whisk us away from the concert hall to the cinema, to the opening credits of a Roland Emmerich movie that begins with the end of the world. Calm yet disconcertingly pulsating bands of energy, flashing and quivering. Galactic nebulae whose multiple shades of black stir our innermost fears…
These two minutes alone would have passed for a complete concert experience. The Creation Hob. XXI:2, of course, is performed according to overall plan set out by God and Joseph Haydn. Distinguished by countless vivid details that drone (subcontrabassoon), trill (transverse flute) or sparkle (fortepiano) almost imperceptibly out of the orchestra, and just as smoothly merge back into the whole. Jordi Savall takes individual numbers, which are usually sung more sweetly or in a more sustained manner, rather quickly. For example, Gabriel’s aria Nun beut die Flur, Uriel’s recitative of the creation of man or Adam and Eve’s praise duet in the third part. It is all the more fascinating to experience how Jordi Savall repeatedly increases the tempo without becoming inorganic or hectic. His turning up of the power and tempo in the praise choruses is positively virtuosic.
The chamber choir La Capella Nacional de Catalunya is magnificent in its sound and in its presence: intense in the pianissimo and delicate in the fortissimo (with “only” five singers per voice). In its audibility, and in the treatment and intelligibility of the text.
The vocal soloists, however, do not attain the same level. The short, clipped vowels of soprano Giulia Bolcato as Gabriel annoyingly make “Lob” (praise) sound like “lopps”: Not even her radiant vocal sound, supple and agile in the coloraturas, can distract from this. The same can also be said of the elegant tenor Mingjie Lei as Uriel. The soprano Flore van Meerssche as “willing and compliant” (yes, yes, we know…) Eve sings the convoluted lyrics with skilful technique and tonal grandeur. Equally masterly, with a clear sound even on the lowest notes, is Matthias Winckhler as Raphael and Adam. The vocal ensembles, where the textual intelligibility of the individual naturally takes a back seat, are full of splendour and brilliance.
All well in paradise? “Do not covet more than you have, or desire to know more than you should”, the angel admonishes Adam and Eve in the finale. The admonition is in vain. Today, beyond the concert hall, this earth is burning. Haydn’s Creation is a highly political indictment of the utmost contemporary relevance.