Chicago Classical Review » » Stunning soloists soar in Haydn’s ‘Creation’ in Grant Park finale

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Duke Kim, Douglas Williams and Maeve Höglund were soloists in Haydn’s Creation Friday night at the Grant Park Music Festival. Photo: Norman Timonera

One could hardly have wished for a more ideal and fitting summer evening for the Grant Park Music Festival’s final season programme. The bountiful weather seemed to reflect the joy and effervescence of the only work on display Friday evening, that of Franz Joseph Haydn Creation.

Unfortunately, there were also plenty of sonic distractions, especially in the first half, from low-flying helicopters to blasts returning from a stage mic, and a relentless onslaught of police and ambulance sirens that seemed to announce more urban carnage. than usual.

Fortunately, Carlos Kalmar, the evening’s soloists and the forces of the Grant Park Orchestra and Grant Park Chorus rose above the din to deliver a spirited and wonderfully sung rendition of Haydn’s famous oratorio.

Casting in three parts, Creation depicts nothing less than the first book of Genesis, recounting God’s creation of the earth, all creatures on the planet, and ultimately Adam and Eve (the storyline remains in happier, pre-Serpent times). With the religious composer clearly energized by the biblical narrative, strong spiritual inspiration runs through the oratorio, which contains some of Haydn’s best late music.

The music of the first part is particularly striking, especially the orchestral introduction. Kalmar largely drew this unsettling “representation of chaos”, where dark, formless emptiness is depicted with undocked harmonics and eerily modern music. The sinuous lines follow one another in the entry of the bass solo and finally an explosion of incandescence with the refrain “Let there be light”.

Kalmar, the festival’s artistic director, brought out Haydn’s playful musical onomatopoeia — like the discordant sonic breath on the “Heavy Beasts” — and led a vital performance that conveyed the composer’s ingenuity. The momentum sagged a little after the intermission, with Kalmar’s thrusting style tending to dampen the score’s piquancy and charm. Still, the performance culminated in an engaging rendition of the Adam and Eve duet and a driving final chorus of heavenly praise.

In this final program of its concentrated ten-week season, the Grant Park Orchestra displayed restless moments of fatigue and uneven string ensemble. Still, much of the wind playing was inspired, especially the horns and avian-toned painting by principal flautist Mary Stolper.

The trio of soloists proved to be first class, the best this listener had heard live in this work since Georg Solti’s CSO performance in 1993 (thankfully preserved on a London recording).

Returning for her second stint at the festival in as many weeks, Maeve Höglund was almost as impressive as in Vaughan Williams’ Dona nobis pacem. If her coloratura passages seemed a little cautious on Friday evening, she brought the required tonal purity and softness to the melodious “With the Clothed Greenery” and was a radiant Eve in the final duet.

The bass serves as a quasi-narrator in the first two sections, and Douglas Williams delivered Raphael’s statements with deep sonority and patriarchal gravity.

One can quibble that Höglund and Williams could have relaxed and given more pleasure as Adam and Eve in the third part, but the soprano and bass remained in serious oratorio mode throughout.

Best of all was Duke Kim. The young singer has a vibrant high tenor, ideal for German oratorio and evangelist roles. Throughout his singing he was terrific – unerringly rich in tone and detailed expressiveness, as with “In Native Worth and Honor Clad”.

Michael Black of Lyric Opera was the guest chorus conductor for this program. While the SATB sections of the chorus could have been more distinctly delineated, the Grant Park Chorus largely delivered Haydn’s goods, bringing a burst of sun-like brilliance to “Let There Be Light” and celebratory jubilation to “Heavens Told “.

After the intermission, festival president and CEO Paul Winberg announced the retirement of two longtime Grant Park musicians. Robert Heitzinger, bass of the Grant Park Chorus for 32 years, is retiring and Grant Park Orchestra pianist Andrea Swan is retiring after 47 seasons.

Creation will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

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