Why didn’t this release make it to a full five stars, you ask? Simple. For the first time we get a period ensemble actually willing to take Haydn’s forces seriously in the 1799 production, and use a large-scale chorus and orchestra (we’re talking about a choral effort of over 90 voices and an orchestra of 114!), and a resplendent noise it is. And this from a conductor known for using absolutely minimal ensembles (heard his Brandenburgs?). But this release is begging for surround sound, and instead gets the usual very-good-but-not-good-enough-for-this DGG stereo. This was a huge mistake on someone’s part, and the engineers (or stupid white collars) at DGG should wake up and realize what a bone-headed decision this was.
I mean, just imagine if you will, a triple harmonie ensemble, for a total of 7 flutes, 6 each of horns, clarinets, and bassoons (and a contrabassoon) all roaring away with a broad and big swagger. But the way it actually sounds on this recording is not really any louder that a modern “normal” sized orchestra. I think that if surround had been used we would have heard something revelatory. As it is, it is still wonderful, but could have been even more.
The performance is terrific. McCreesh, known for his quickie tempos, keeps thing nicely balanced here, and the singers are all top-flight. And it’s all in English as well, clear, nicely-enunciated English at that. I cannot say that it upsets Robert Shaw in his spectacular Telarc recording (with Dawn Upshaw as Gabriel), and that one is something special, but among period instrument recordings I don’t think there is any competition anymore, especially since we now have an example of true authenticity and not just theoretical reductionism (though McCreesh did so some “updating” to the libretto, as did Shaw). This is absolutely mandatory.
Now if someone will just talk McCreesh into giving us the Paris symphonies with these same forces (the way they were intended), we might just be onto something.
— Steven Ritter