By David Patrick Stearns, Inquirer Music Critic
Posted: May 13, 2013
Every so often, the classical music world decides to advance into the visual age with busy video screens, often with interesting outcome, though ultimately feeling redundant because everything you need to see is in the music already.
Symphony in C’s particularly vivid reading of Haydn’s The Creation Saturday at Camden’s Gordon Theater conjured the Book of Genesis (on which it’s based) perfectly well with no visuals of birds, animals or Adam and Eve that are sometimes seen with the piece. Imagination wasn’t even required. Illustrating The Creation is like putting real sunflowers next to Van Gogh’s painting of them.
Not every performance leaves such an impression. In its second collaboration with the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, the Symphony in C concert (to be repeated at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral) used circumstance and design to draw the ear particularly close to the music, starting with the lively acoustics, which enabled projection of the English text.
The excellent program notes (by Eric Polack and Joseph C. Schiavo) had commentary interspersed within the list of the piece’s 34 numbers. Lights were kept high enough that you could read them.
One could say that Haydn did the rest. But though The Creation is superb, late-period Haydn, the composer was not a natural dramatist and, perhaps in compensation, went into word-painting overdrive in ways that can seem obvious or quaint when not embraced with 100 percent belief.
Which it received. The Mendelssohn Club sang with unusual (and necessary) exactitude. But few Creation performances are so lucky with soloists. Roy Hage had an English tenor lightness but with interior muscle and a small, attractively tremulous vibrato. Warm, charismatic tone but a lieder singer’s way with words marked the singing of bass-baritone Andrew Bogard. Though she started with some vocal unruliness, soprano Chloe Moore achieved the great interpretive specificity of the others.
What made all of it matter was music director Rossen Milanov’s personal understanding of the piece. Once God creates light in the opening moments, conductors tend to adopt sprightly tempos; Milanov went slower, allowing you to feel the music’s importance. From there on, the piece broke free of its warhorse status. Most of his excellent orchestra hadn’t previously played the piece. Maybe that was a good thing.
Contact music critic David Patrick Stearns at email@example.com