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David A. McConnell
Choral Journal, August 2009

With this new box set (which gathers together recordings made between 2005 and ‘07), Naxos provides affordable recordings of the three—that’s right, three!—oratorios by Haydn. A new recording of Die Schöpfung (The Creation), must be nothing less than excellent to be competitive (archivmusic. com lists 45 other choices) and this is certainly one of the finest. The performance, conducted by Andreas Spering leading the VokalEnsemble Köln, Capella Augustina, and soloists, finds a middle ground between Bruno Weil’s intimate (one might argue too small-scaled) performance with the Tölzer Knabenchor and Tafelmusik (Sony Classical, nla), and the large forces assembled for Paul McCreesh’s recent recording on Archiv. I compared Spering’s recording with two other performances using original instruments and historically informed performance practice: Weil’s and John Eliot Gardiner’s 1996 Archiv recording with The Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists.

“The Representation of Chaos” is perhaps the weakest part of Spering’s performance. His tempo is daringly slow, one and half minutes longer than Gardiner and almost two minutes longer than Weil…Thankfully, things take flight with the solo bass entrance of Hanno Müller-Brachmann (Raphael), who varies his timbre to achieve maximum expressive effect. The subito forte at the word “Licht” (Light) is overwhelming, though the tempo continues to drag as Spering tries to wring out every last ounce of drama. However, with the beginning of the first aria, “Nun schwanden vor dem heiligen Strahle” (Now vanish before the holy beams) he seems to settle into his interpretation and, with few exceptions, tempos seems absolutely right for the rest of the performance.

The other soloists prove to be ideal—Sunhae Im and Jan Kobow bring great beauty, drama and eloquence to their arias, and all three soloists excel in the duets and trios. These soloists really listen to one another and are truly engaged with the text, which holds true for the orchestra as well. The woodwind section seems to continually The young-sounding choir sings with ardent enthusiasm, excellent intonation, and clear diction. While certainly smaller in number than in other, more traditional performances of this work, the choir displays great agility in the fugal writing and incisive attack in the homophonic passages. What stands out from all involved is a dedication to making Haydn’s wonderful text painting come alive. The listener is constantly made aware of just how vivid and masterful is Haydn’s imagination, due, in large part, to Spering’s well-considered interpretation. The recorded sound, which has a lovely open and airy bloom, manages excellent balance between choir and orchestra (though the brass section does have a tendency to dominate the aural picture at forte and above). Gardiner and his forces are arguably more refined but there is a freshness and enthusiasm in Spering’s performance that is engaging and interesting from first to last.

The recording of Die Jahreszeiten has far less competition (archivmusic.com lists 27 recordings) but two excellent recordings are available, one by Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists (1992) and René Jacobs’ fantastic recording with the RIAS-Kammerchor and Freiburger Barockorchester (1994), both using old instruments. Although the Naxos recording (in full, warm, and strangely airless sound) captures the Leipziger Kammerorchester playing modern instruments, Morten Schuldt-Jensen’s performance fully incorporates historical performance practice. In fact, Schuldt-Jensen addresses his approach in the liner notes, explaining his belief that modern instruments can phrase and articulate in a way that faithfully captures the sound-world Haydn had in mind…The orchestra does indeed phrase and articulate in a historically accurate way; the winds are more pronounced in balance with a smaller, classically-sized string section, which plays with less weight and brighter colors than they would performing late-romantic or twentieth-century repertoire. The soloists, particularly soprano Sibylla Rubens, are very fine. The professional Gewandhaus Kammerchor sings with excellent diction and impeccable intonation. Tempos seem appropriate and sensible…

Die Jahreszeiten is perhaps harder to sell than Die Schöpfung—the libretto provides less opportunity for word painting, and there is no single, grand “Licht” moment. The first section, “Spring,” for example, consists mainly of music in a pastoral mode. Here it is indeed delightfully sung and played…

Il ritorno di Tobia is actually Haydn’s first oratorio. Written in 1774 and first performed in April 1775, the work, despite its initial success, never established itself in the repertoire and has remained virtually unknown for over two hundred years. The only other recording, made by Antal Dorati in 1994, quickly disappeared from the catalogue. So Spering’s recording is doubly welcome for filling an obvious gap in the Haydn discography and allowing us to experience this work in a thrillingly realized performance.

The oratorio has a very different structural framework from the Handel oratorios, or from Haydn’s other two works in the genre. The chorus is rarely used: there are only five choruses in the work, which lasts almost three hours. (Perhaps the choruses could be extracted and sung as a set—choirs would love singing these movements!) The arias are clearly the main compositional vehicle for textural expression.

Still, as I listened, I could not understand why I had never heard of this piece before. Is it the length of the work? Is it the language? Is it the different structure? I don’t have the answers, but I feel grateful to have heard it.

The libretto, by Giovanni Gastone Boccherini (brother of the famous cellist/composer Luigi) tells the Old Testament story of Tobias. According to the liner notes, the story of Tobias’ return from traveling abroad and healing his blind father was incredibly popular in Vienna at the time, retold “in painting, sculpture, literature, and music; in Vienna alone it had been set to music dozens of times.” Italian oratorio was also an incredibly popular genre; in fact, Handel’s oratorios were not being performed in their original English or German translation, but in Italian.

Haydn’s music is up to his usual standard; the orchestration constantly displays his sensitivity to color and detail. The arias offer ample opportunity for beautiful and virtuosic singing and the soloists are uniformly excellent; Anders Dahlin (Tobias) and Sophie Karthäuser (Sara) stand out with some particularly exquisite singing towards the end of Part One and beginning of Part Two. The Capella Augustina plays with even more refinement, without any loss of energy and character, than it does in Die Schöpfung. The choruses are superbly rendered by VokalEnsemble Köln, and Spering directs a vibrantly dramatic performance. The recording quality is first-rate, everything well balanced within an acoustic that contributes a warm glow.

In short, this box set is well worth its modest cost. The performance of Il ritorno di Tobia alone justifies your outlay for the set; the fact that you can get three excellent performances for roughly the cost of one of the Gardiner recordings should provide all the incentive you need…



Colin Clarke
MusicWeb International, July 2009

I will deliberately leave my reactions to Die Schöpfung until last. For this reviewer the interest in this set lies with the two lesser-known pieces. Purchase of this box may result in the happy event of a “supplementary” Schöpfung in the reader’s collection, and, given the high standard of Spering’s reading, that would be no bad thing.

Die Jahreszeiten (“The Seasons”) has always sat in the shade of Die Schöpfung, something that has unfairly militated against it…The Introduction to Die Jahreszeiten—a portrait of the journey from Winter to Spring—sets the scene perfectly here. The use of light articulation and clearly informed performance practice add life to the luminous counterpoint. Modern instruments are used, but with stylistic expertise. The scoring, notably, includes three trombones—who return in the prayer, “Sei non gnädig”. The Introduction moves straight into Simon’s recitative on the departure of Winter. Lukas describes the melting snows, leading to a welcome to Spring from Hanne. All three soloists are expertly matched. Sibylla Rubens (Hanne) has a wonderfully pure soprano, her pitching is spot-on and her phrasing is clearly heartfelt. It is Hanne who leads the finale—from the Freudenlied, “O wie lieblich ist der Anblick!”—and she does so beautifully.

Simon’s aria, “Schon eilet froh der Ackersmann” (With eagerness the husbandsman) is notable for the inclusion of the famous theme from Haydn’s “Surprise” symphony. Geneva-born bass-baritone Stephan MacLeod is attractively voiced but his voice lacks some power.

Tenor Andreas Karasiak (Lukas) is light of voice and has no problems at all with the higher-lying passages. All three soloists work perfectly together—as Spring’s finale conclusively proves.

The Leipzig Chamber Choir are a light-toned ensemble. In “Komm, holder Lenz!”, where boys and girls each get their chance to comment. They still pack a punch in the Spring finale’s celebration of Nature as well as sharply delineating the lines of the fugue at “Ehre, Lob und Preis” (Glory, praise the Lord).

Summer, in terms of music, is the longest season. A hunting horn plays a prominent part in Simon’s aria, “Der muntre Hirt versammelt nun” (The ready swain is gath’ring now). MacLeod phrases most suavely. Just a pity the aria is only three minutes long: Haydn’s intent is clearly to leave one wanting more. Instead of extending the aria, Haydn graphically paints the rising sun with ascending figures for soloists before the chorus affirms the sun has risen. Karasiak’s plaintive voice suits his cavatina “Dem Druck’ erlieget die Natur” (Distressful Nature fainting sinks), but Rubens overshadows him in her gripping way with recitative (“Wilkommen jetzt, o dunkler Hain”: Welcome now, ye shady groves) and in her ensuing, charming aria, “Welche Labung für die Sinne” (O what comfort to the senses). This, it turns out, is a remarkably emotionally-charged summer season, including a thunderstorm: the chorus, “Ah! Das Ungewitter naht”: O! The tempest comes o’er head.

The booklet notes refer to the influence of Mozart’s Zauberflöte on the writing, and there is certainly an element of truth in this. It seems particularly obvious in “Autumn”. There is much delightful writing to the Terzetto and Chorus, “So lehnet der Natur den Fleiss” (So Nature ever kind repays), a movement which finds the three soloists in beautiful balance.

The longest section of “Autumn” is Lukas and Hanne’s duet, “Iht Schönen aus der Stadt, kommt her” (Ye ladies fine and fair, O come). Karasiak’s light tenor renders Haydn’s upbeat writing well. Rubens’ Hanne responds with an identifiably Spring-like freshness. Again, though, I find myself a little worried by MacLeod’s voice, slightly lacking in projection, in his “Seht auf die breiten Wiesen hin” (Behold the wide extended meads). A shame, as the orchestral accompaniment is spot-on in terms of string articulation and general sprightliness. The hunting horns of the chorus “Hört das laute Getön” (Hear the clank and the noise) have a ball, exhibiting a rusticity that verges on rowdiness. The finale augments this with what Haydn himself described as a “drunken fugue”. The music swings—or should that be sways?—most affectingly.

The libretto is available on the Naxos website, but only in German. The rather old-fashioned English translations used in this review are taken from the Naxos booklet.

The oratorio Il ritorno di Tobia spreads over three discs. I first heard this piece when it was issued singly in 2007 and was massively impressed (see reviews), both by Haydn’s invention and by the present performance. The libretto is by Giovanni Gastone Boccherini, brother of the composer Luigi Boccherini. The Capella Augustina gives a punchy, stylistically-aware account of the opening Sinfonia; more, the recording quality is exemplary, fully supporting the sforzandi.

The opening trio and chorus, “Pietà d’un’ infelice” (Have pity on an unhappy, tormented mother”) is most affectingly realised. Vocal performance sets the standard for what follows. Ann Hallenberg is a strong, creamy-voiced Anna, and she is matched by the strong Borchev as Tobit. The initial conversation between the two feels perhaps too long, but it is compensated for by Anna’s superb aria, “Sudò il guerriero” (The warrior sweats), especially with the declamatory, ample-voiced Hallenberg fronting things. This is a real highlight of this wonderful work, and if the reader wishes to sample Tobia prior to purchase—via one of the Naxos sites, perhaps—this would be a good place to start. Hallenberg shines again later in the first part in her aria, “Ah gran Dio” (Great God), a tender and heartfelt statement of appreciation for God’s benevolence in sending Tobias to cure his father’s blindness. The radiant chorus that follows takes the same words and acts as what might be described as a radiant suffix. The chorus is in fact excellent throughout, and fully rises to the blazing white light of Part I’s final number, “Odi le nostre voci” (Hear our prayer) and to the rigours of the concluding fugue. Hallenberg’s Part II aria, “Come un signo” (As in a dream) reveals Haydn’s dramatic gifts as he paints in music the character of Anna’s nightmares, and again, a chorus reinforces the drama effectively (“Svanisce in un momento”, In a moment disappear).

Anders Dahlin is a light tenor who tries to be a touch too subtle for his aria “Quando mi dona un cenno” (When your sweet lips). The effect is to direct our ears towards the ever-stylish playing of the Capella Augustina; even his closing cadenza is restrained, fully in tune with his purpose of projecting beauty. The Second Part aria, “Quel felice nocchier” (The happy boatswain) reinforces these impressions.

Sara’s long-awaited introduction to the audience occurs at her aria, “Del caro sposo” (I am in my dear husband’s house). Sophie Karthäuser is a splendid young singer whose career is very much on the up, and this confirms her status. She has the wide range necessary for this aria, negotiates the wide leaps well and delivers her scales impeccably. The Part II aria “Non parmi esser fra gl’uomini” (I would not be amongst mankind) reveals her ease in the delivery of long, lyrical lines.

Borchev is, as initial impressions suggested, a strong but intensely musical titular Tobit. Try his magnificent “Ah tu m’ascolta, O Dio” (Hear me, O God), an aria that seems to include within its 4:45 span a whole variety of vocal techniques, all of which Borchev negotiates spectacularly well.

The part of Raphael (Raffaele) is taken by the well-known Milanese soprano Roberta Invernizzi. Her first aria, “Quel figlio a te sì caro” (That, son, so dear to me) is prefaced by the most magical melisma on “Anna, m’ascolta”. This is mirrored perhaps in the cadenza she enjoys at the end of the succeeding aria, complete with introductory orchestral 6/4 chord. Invernizzi’s stylistic awareness is magnificent; her ability to negotiate wide leaps accurately, with no notes “caught” in between and no feeling of swoop is most refreshing. Part II of the oratorio begins with a gentle conversation between Anna, Sarah and Raphael (“O della santa fé stupendi effetti”; Oh the marvellous workings of blessed faith) before Invernizzi is given the aria, “Come se a voi parlasse” (As if to you a messenger from Heaven would speak), where she absolutely shines, her voice ever-responsive to the text, her technique ever reliable.

Haydn’s music is of infinite variety. The duet, “Dunque, O Dio” towards the end of the piece for Tobia and Anna is a magnificent feat of restrained emotion and beauty. The chorus is used sparingly but effectively.

The libretto, this time, is included in the booklet but in Italian only. 

Die Schöpfung is obviously the best-known of the pieces here. Spering’s “Representation of Chaos” is not the most shocking I have heard, so the contrast with the ensuing recitative “Im Anfange schuf Gott Hummel und Erde” is not quite as marked as Haydn surely intended. This is perhaps surprising, given the intrinsic rawness of original instruments. The arrival on the word “Licht” is glowing, however.

Jan Kobow is an excellent, dramatic Uriel; Hanno Müller-Brachmann takes the role of the Archangel Raphael, while Sunhae Im is a radiant, light-voiced and incredibly agile Gabriel.

Müller-Brachmann makes a firm impression in his aria, “Rollend in schaümenden Wellen” (Rolling in foaming billows), and firmly enjoys his descriptions of the animals in his Part II recitative, “Und Gott sprach: es bringe die Erde hervor lebends Geschöpfe” (And God said: Let the earth bring forth the living creatures).

Im impresses in her Part II aria, “Auf starkem Fittiche schwinget sich der Adler stolz” (On mighty pens uplifted soars the eagle aloft); Kobow’s light, musical tenor suits Uriel’s “Mit Würd’ und Hoheit angetan” (In native worth and honour clad) to a tee.

The choral contribution in this work is marked, and the VokalEnsemble Köln is uniformly excellent. The punchy “Stimmt an die Seiten” (Awake the harp) is wonderfully agile and stimulating, the famous “Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes” (The Heavens are telling of the Glory of God).

Spering’s dramatic pacing is excellent, resulting in a truly held-breath “Vollendet ist das grosse Werk” (Achieved is the glorious work) with its perfectly balanced contained Trio, “Zu dir, Herr, blickt alles auf” (On Thee each living soul awaits). The beauty of Part III—in particular, the Adam/Eve duet, “Von deiner Güt’” and the bucolic contentment of “Holde Gattin!”—is laid bare for all to hear. This is emphasised by Spering’s careful preparation in Parts I and II, while the final grandeur of the last chorus, “Singet dem Herren alle Stimmen” (Sing the Lord, ye voices all!), complete with magisterial double fugue, acts as a fitting ending.

Again, no libretto, only a track-by-track synopsis.

A convenient and cost-effective way to familiarise yourself with two of Haydn’s lesser-known choral works, then.



Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, March 2009

SOME THOUGHTS ON THE COMPLETE HAYDN: ALL THE SONATAS, STRING QUARTETS, SYMPHONIES AND CONCERTOS.

It's been quite a journey so far, and looking back on the countless hours of pleasure that this vast undertaking has yielded, truly the experience of a lifetime. There are manifold delights this collection has afforded me.

8.501042 THE COMPLETE PIANO SONATAS (10 CDs)

The consistent uniformity of Jenő Jandó’s pianism is a marvel: there is never a moment of  less than superb musicianship throughout his traversal. Having enjoyed his performances of all the Mozart concertos as well, I'm tempted to join him on an all-Beethoven Sonatas adventure. I felt much the same way about the compelling Kodaly Quartet's collection of 25 CDs: they never falter, their enthusiasm and perfect intonation are truly a wonder.

8.503400 THE COMPLETE SYMPHONIES (34 CDs)

With the symphonies, it is a bit of a mixed bag. There is no getting away from the fact that several, especially the early ones, are hastily cobbled together and do not reflect much inspiration. However, even weak tea can be made more palatable with an enthusiastic and imaginative execution.  My favourite among the half-dozen ensembles  sharing this enterprise are the Toronto Chamber Orchestra ledby Kevin Mallon, with Helmut Mueller Bruehl's Cologne Chamber Orchestra a close second. Yet none of the others—even where drawn from Naxos earlier releases—is less than adequate, and all benefit from superb reproduction. I am now looking forward to the 6 CD concerto collection, due in April.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2009

To mark the bicentenary of Haydn’s death, Naxos gather together recordings of his three great oratorios previously released to much acclaim. I reviewed Il ritorno di Tobia in November 2007 and found his first oratorio never quite making up its mind as to whether it really wanted to be an opera, the score so full of likable arias. Why it so quickly slipped from the repertoire is unclear, and only recently has it been rediscovered. Here the conductor Andreas Spering encourages his singers to assume an operatic stance, with Ann Hallenberg and Sophie Karthauser revelling in the vocal acrobatics, while Hallenberg proves to be a dramatic mezzo of rare quality. Choral singing and orchestral playing from the VokalEnsemble Koln and Capella Augustina is very good, Spering inducing in everyone the feeling that they are taking part in a lost masterwork. I had been a little less generous to Spering’s account of The Creation when it appeared in April 2005, the quality of the Cologne choir here sounding very much of the 21st century, though singing with a happy response to Haydn’s musical pictures.The soloists are generally most enjoyable, again treating the work in operatic mode, while their storytelling has an almost child-like enthusiasm. I pick out the soprano Sun Hae Im for special comment, her beautiful silvery voice so endearing. Spering keeps the score moving with urgency, his orchestra responding with mighty powerful playing at the appropriate moments. Between these two releases, in March 2006, I was regretting we nowadays seldom hear The Seasons, a score where Haydn pictures the changes throughout the year as seen through the eyes of country-folk. The recording comes from the Leipzig Kammerorchester, Morten Schuldt-Jensen conducting a performance that never seeks earth-shattering discoveries. Yet with a good team of soloists, headed by the pure voice of soprano Sibylla Rubens, and a choir and orchestra that support his solid musicianship, I found the version comparable with the many star-studded recordings in the catalogue. Now brought together in a slip case, it offers a readily accessible way to add these works to your collection.






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2:35:36 PM, 30 August 2014
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