The Creation Oratorio of Franz Joseph Haydn is one of my favorite choral works. I have always regretted the rarity of its performance by Triangle choral societies where Brahms' Requiem tends to alternate with Verdi's Requiem with the occasional Elijah of Mendelssohn. Haydn's delightful oratorio is much more frequently done in the Triad area. The Winston-Salem Symphony's performance of the Haydn in Stevens Center had been eagerly anticipated and was rewarding and satisfying on many levels.
Music Director Robert Moody's love of performing the choral literature is well known but on this occasion he served as master of ceremonies before slipping into the men's section of the chorus. He drew attention to the addition of the Winston-Salem State University Choir to the Winston-Salem Symphony Chorale. Moody proudly introduced the guest conductor, Donald Neuen, currently professor of music/conducting and director of choral activities at UCLA since 1993. Among Neuen's previous posts was a stint on the faculty of the Eastman School of Music for 12 years where he became Moody's teacher and mentor.
The performance was blessed with an outstanding trio of vocal soloists. Soprano Kendra Colton has a versatile career singing repertoire from Baroque opera and oratorio to contemporary music. Her voice was beautifully clear with just the right degree of color and warmth. Her intonation was tightly focused and her voice was evenly supported across its range. Tenor John McVeigh had a pleasing timbre, was evenly produced and supported, and was agile no matter the dynamic or tempo. The crystal-clear and deep sepulchral voice of bass Laurence Albert was a hit with the audience. His sustained low delivery of the word "worms" was rewarded with widespread applause! All three soloists delivered the English text with exceptional clarity. The projected supertitles were superfluous. The same high level of diction was present in the choruses' singing from which one could have taken the libretto in the form of dictation.
Haydn's text was derived from three principal sources: Genesis and Psalms from the Holy Bible and the "Genesis" portion of John Milton's Paradise Lost. By withholding musical cadences from the ends of phrases, the composer depicts primordial chaos in the prelude. A highlight of the opening choral number is the sudden fortissimo C major chord on the word "Light" at the end of a hushed beginning. One of the delights of Haydn's orchestral score is the instrumental portrayal of images being sung by the soloists or the choir. Woodwinds chirp cheerfully during the creation of birds. Low strings underline the creation of great whales. The composer's humorous touch is at its height in No. 21 "At once the Earth opens her womb" which rattles off the making of a plethora of animals both glamorous and prosaic. The orchestra's bassoons and contrabassoons were wonderfully pungent in the lead in to the big tenor recitative and aria "And God created Man."
Guest conductor Neuen led an immensely satisfying performance, securing an alert and stylish classical orchestral execution with an ideal balance between instrumentalists, soloists, and the very large choral force. The enunciation of the three excellent soloists and of the combined choruses was superb.