The L.A. Master Chorale presents Haydn’s The Creation
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Franz Joseph Haydn: Die Schöpfung
Elissa Johnston (Soprano), Sanford Sylvan (Baritone), Hak Soo Kim (Tenor)
The Los Angeles Master Chorale and Orchestra, Grant Gershon (conductor)
(© Lee Salem)
In the ongoing celebration of music director Grant Gershon’s 10th anniversary season, the Los Angeles Master Chorale presented Haydn’s masterpiece The Creation to a sold out Disney Hall Sunday evening. The expanded 110-voice Chorale was joined by a large orchestra and distinguished soloists. Haydn’s massive work has long been a cornerstone of the repertoire, and it is easy to see why: the piece features inspiring and memorable choruses, ample showpieces for soloists, and a complex orchestration that foreshadows the structure and sound of Beethoven. Just listening to the wandering and unsettling depiction of chaos at the beginning of Part I, it is hard not to be reminded of Beethoven’s symphonic expositions.
This leads us to the main issue with the performance Sunday evening. The orchestra, while made up of very capable players, was the primary obstacle in conveying the detailed narrative that Haydn constructed. There were some nice moments, particularly some beautiful flute and clarinet solos, but the lack of drama and grace in the orchestral phrasing made for a lackluster contribution from the group. This was painfully apparent in pieces such as the soprano solo “Nun beut die Flur das frische Grün,” which requires a more lilting and delicate approach from the orchestra. The transitions were unsure as in the bass recit to the trio, “Und die Engel rührten ihr' unsterblichen Harfen,” which seemed to take a few measures to settle into an agreed tempo. Stylistic considerations were inconsistent and internal structures were obscured. Perhaps a firmer approach from Maestro Gershon would have helped better shape and propel the music.
Nevertheless, the Chorale and soloists were excellent. The Chorale members sang with astonishingly clear diction; their sound was robust and powerful, but always appealing. The singers’ first entrance to the C-Major chord, “Licht,” was intensely brilliant. There were no weak moments or fatigue, and the sopranos in particular were still vibrant and fresh in the final chorus, “Singt dem Herren alle Stimmen!” The phrasing and nuances were impressively prepared and executed with perfect rhythmic clarity. This is a powerful and versatile chorus with uncanny flexibility; it can sing anything.
The soloists were excellent and well invested in the drama of the work. Soprano Elissa Johnston sang with a pure and shimmering tone and navigated her difficult coloratura passages admirably. Hak Soo Kim sang the tenor recits with a penetrating knowledge of the German text. Kim gave some wonderfully sensitive moments in “In vollem Glanze steiget jetzt die Sonne,” when he sang of the rising moon. This young tenor has a wonderfully easy sound. Baritone Sanford Sylvan was the standout of the three. His burnished baritone sound was perfectly suited for the part. His portrayal of the rolling streams in “Rollend in schaumenden Wellen” was beautiful and sincere. In singing of the newly created worm in “Gleich öffnet sich der Erde Schoss,” Sylvan’s secure low D elicited appropriate chuckles. This seasoned artist is a master of communication.
At its loudest and most fervent, there were some wonderful moments of awe-inspiring majesty. Still, the performance was missing a coherence that comes with rehearsal and direction, no minor detail when it comes to a work of this scope and duration. As if to illustrate this point, Maestro Gershon was compelled to remind the audience there was still a third part to come after a significant portion leapt to their feet following the chorus that ends the second part. This is more easily blamed though on the lack of detail in the printed program (there were only supertitles). The Chorale and soloists were so stylistically and musically excellent, the inconsistency of the orchestra was surprising, given that they were both prepared under the same baton. Despite its unevenness, the performance offered substantial glimpses into the genius and humanity of this masterpiece, which, despite its ubiquitous nature, is always a welcome program choice.