HAYDN: The Creation (in German) – Sally Matthew (Gabriel, Eva)/ Ian Bostridge (Uriel)/ Dietrich Henschel (Raphael, Adam)/ London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/ Colin Davis, conductor – LSO Live Multichannel SACD 0628 (2 discs), 102:49 ***** [Distr. by Harmonia mundi]:
Because of Haydn’s two earlier visits to London in the 1790s, and his exposure to Handelian oratorios, we have, providentially, this masterly work of the same genre that really has no predecessors in the composer’s catalog. 40 years after the death of Handel, the late composer reigned supreme, and the English were fairly confident that none would take his place, even though Haydn’s trips were supremely successful and made him a wealthy man.
Until, that is, the year of 1798, when The Creation was completed. Haydn had been, admittedly, overwhelmed by the experience of hearing so many Handel works done with large choral forces, and felt that “he was struck as if he had been put back to the beginning of his studies and had known nothing up to that moment” according to a biographer. He learned quickly—when a libretto of The Creation fell into his hands—and the origins of this work are still shrouded in mystery, except that Baron Gottfried von Swieten first caught it and thrust it into the view of Haydn—and put the full powers of his now mid-sixties advancement in age directly into this work. The work was fashioned in English though Von Swieten was asked to make a German translation as well. After the 1798 premiere in Vienna the work was launched worldwide to unparalleled acclaim everywhere it was given. The skill in the recitatives and choruses, while not like Handel, certainly bore his influence, and few pieces have been so unanimously praised since.
There have been innumerable recordings of this piece, from the stately Karajan in an older style to the recent period instrument McCreesh on DGG, certainly the one to get if one seeks a period performance. There are of course other considerations. German and English versions abound, though curiously the German seems to have prevailed recording-wise. Bernstein had much to say about this work in his two readings, still very fine. Robert Shaw’s English reading is the last word in that language, even though his instruments are modern, and the work has never been sung better. Colin Davis has never (!) recorded this work before, and so that makes this issue all the more interesting. I cannot think of a better version done with traditional forces in many, many years, though Davis does prefer German. The singing is superb, the soloists all the more so (especially the radiant Sally Matthews), and for once the typical LSO Live boxy stage sound seems to have been tamed. This is one of their best releases to date, with lovely surround sound adding much to the presentation. This is truly a wonderful achievement, and with McCreesh, Shaw, and Davis on my shelves, I think I am set for life.
— Steven Ritter