The Mendelssohn Club, Greater Philadelphia’s premiere symphonic chorus, joined forces with Symphony in C for a performance of Franz Joseph Haydn’s oratorio, “The Creation,” Sunday, May 19, in the Episcopal Cathedral Church of the Savior in West Philadelphia. Conducted by the Symphony’s music director, Rossen Milanov, the concert was one of the highpoints of the 2012-13 season and drew an audience that packed the church.
Divided into three parts and taking nearly two hours to perform, “The Creation” is one of Haydn’s finest large works. Joining “The Seasons” and the many superb late settings of the Latin Mass the composer wrote during his years in Vienna, “The Creation” is a masterful telling of the story of creation as found in the Book of Genesis with additional poetic texts inserted to flesh out the narration. The libretto employs three of the four archangels – Michael doesn’t take part but Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel all do – to recount God’s creation of the world, culminating with Adam and Eve.
Haydn responded with some of the most imaginative and powerful music he ever composed. The orchestral writing is a splendid balance between classical developmental procedures and romantic tone-painting. The writing for the three vocal soloists – soprano, tenor & baritone – belies the notion that while Mozart was a magnificent writer for the voice Haydn was gifted only in developing themes and laying out structure. Hogwash! Haydn’s gift for melody is beautifully apparent in “The Creation” – and he employed that genius for substantive delineation rather than vocal decoration. Plus his writing for full chorus approaches in quality the genius of both Bach and Handel.
Sunday afternoon’s performance was noteworthy on all counts. The preparation of the Mendelssohn Club by longtime music director Alan Harler was flawless. The choir sang with power and precision, delivering the English text with clarity and the emotional substance of the words with memorable potency. Ensemble, balance and blend were immaculate. Soprano Chloe Moore (a student at the Academy of Vocal Arts) and tenor Roy Hage & baritone Andrew Bogard (both students at the Curtis Institute of Music) all sang beautifully and meaningfully. Symphony in C gave a colorfully dramatic reading of the orchestral part, and Rossen Milanov oversaw the entire rendition with firmness and sensitivity.