The best traditional "Creation" in years
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 06/09/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As the product description says, The Creation is Haydn's undisputed masterpiece, at least in any work with orchestra, and I rarely pass up a new recording. Colin Davis has always been rather relaxed and traditional in his approach to this composer -- his big-band set of the London symphonies on Philips enjoys a good reputation. Here I detect that he has half an ear cocked toward period style: the string body plays with no vibrato at times and doesn't seem to be at full strength for the LSO. Since Davis's phrasing remains very sure, even at eighty, the result is to the manner born so far as orchestral execution goes.
From the opening instrumental section depicting Chaos before the day of Creation, this performance tends toward th gentle rather than the forceful, the reflective rather than the dramatic. Tempos are always on the steady, broad side. In short, you need a taste for traditional Haydn, harking back to the days of Bernstein and Karajan in tis work, to fully appreciate Davis's approach. It's at the opposite extreme from the sinewy, punchy, highly contrasted style of John Eliot Gardiner.
We are spoiled for choice in The Creation, and anyone who owns a truly masterful traditional reading won't find that the new Davis surpasses the two versions each from Bernstein and Karajan. However, the London Sym. Chorus is a standout, and the engineers catch every word they sing. As far as the soloists go, Davis chooses to use three for all the roles in the libretto; therefore, the angels are sung by the same voices as Adam and Eve. Dietrich Henschel is a notable German baritone, and he knows his way around the music. The young English soprano Sally Matthews has a lovely timbre and manages to cope with Davis's slow tempos. I am allergic to Ian Bostridge's voice, but in his smaller part he adds a fervent, involved note. None of the three outshines the best in this work (Wunderlich and Janowitz for Karajan, John Reardon and John Alexander for Bernstein on Sony, Lucia Popp for Dorati on Decca), but there's no complaint.
This is a live concert reading but sounds essentially like a studio recording. If you like Davis and want a fine traditional reading to add to a long list, here you go."