Choral Music, Orchestral Music Review Print



LIGHT! Haydn's Creation in Winston-Salem

November 24, 2002 - Winston-Salem, NC:


The cyberspace shout is a metaphor for the still astonishing effect of a hushed chorus reciting the biblical story of creation: "And God said, Let there be light: and there was light." The key changes from C minor to C major and the dynamics from piano to forte as the chorus shouts "light" and the whole orchestra surges. Earlier, Haydn's dissonant depiction of chaos still sounded avant-garde. A major flaw in Triangle choral programming is that Haydn's Creation oratorio is seldom performed while repetitive cycles of the Requiems of Brahms, Mozart and Verdi hold sway. Triad friends say that the Haydn is frequently programmed there. The temptation of a matinee performance by the Winston-Salem Symphony in the Stevens Center November 24 was irresistible.

The full Winston-Salem Symphony orchestra was used, rather than a pared-down chamber orchestra. This helped make the eerie "chaos" music as well as the major full orchestral portions all the more effective. The chorus was made up of the combined W-S Symphony Chorale and the North Carolina School of the Arts Cantata Singers. A phalanx of men in black suits was sandwiched between phalanxes of women in white blouses and dark dresses. The part of Gabriel was song by the distinguished soprano Marilyn Taylor, whose recent CD Return: Art Songs from Carolina received a rave review from CVNC colleague Marvin Ward. As usual, her voice was evenly supported throughout its range and had more than sufficient top notes. Fellow NCSA faculty member Jamie Albritten sang the role of Uriel. His warm tenor voice was well supported and flexible. Both were models in their clear projection of the text. Raphael was ably sung by NCSA alumnus John Williams, who has been bass soloist with both Triad and Triangle orchestras. His tendency to project his voice straight at the orchestra section sometimes made it hard to hear the whole text clearly from an otherwise "sweet" spot in the Stevens Center balcony. Having been wowed by soprano Lucy Tucker Yates's assumption of Gilda in the Piedmont Opera's fall production of Verdi's Rigoletto , I was disappointed to find that she had been replaced in the role of Eve in this performance. However, her substitute, soprano Emily Amber Newton (who sings in the NCS' post-Thanksgiving holiday pops concerts in Raleigh), proved excellent. Her full range was well supported throughout, and she had an attractive tone as well as clear enunciation. Adam was ably sung by baritone David Schmidt. His warm voice blended well with Newton in their extensive duets. Both are fellows of the A. J. Fletcher Opera Institute at the NCSA. Based on the singers that I have heard in just the past two years, this new program ought to do much to bring renewed vitality to opera in the region and beyond.

Everything was under the firm and stylish direction of W-S Symphony Music Director Peter Perret. Balances between chorus, soloists and orchestra were ideal. The combined choirs were first rate, and choral projection and diction were excellent. The soloists and choristers used an English version that was smoother than the one provided in the program insert. All sections of the orchestra played at their best. The woodwinds were superb in the many nature sounds that abound in Haydn's score. The horns and other brass were glorious. The low strings were a delight in evoking the crawling motions of the worm which "creeps, with sinuous trace." Principal Cellist Robert Marsh was just one of many musicians asked by Perret to stand to receive applause. The fine harpsichordist was Nancy Johnson, of the NCSA. Stevens Center is an ideal venue for oratorio concerts. Although the harpsichord was not amplified, I was able to savor its lute stop from the balcony.

At his fine pre-concert overview, Principal Timpanist Massie Johnson talked about the role of Haydn's librettist, Baron Gottfried van Swieten, the Viennese Court Librarian, who selected the English texts and translated them into German and made detailed suggestions to the composer about the musical settings. Among the many recommendations Haydn willing accepted was the dramatic use of the single word "light." As guest conductor Jeffrey Kahane commented before he began his recent NC Symphony concert, the 18th- and 19th-century public expected to hear the latest compositions, and revivals of past works were very exceptional. Van Swieten was a musical catalyst. He brought to the attention of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven the works of J.S. Bach and Handel. This exposure profoundly affected their respective styles.

[Edited slightly on 12/4/02.]