A good performance marred by a dubious presentation
Mike Birman | Brooklyn, New York USA | 01/13/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"In the booklet accompanying this odd DVD of Haydn's magnificent Creation oratorio, composed in 1798, the producers proudly proclaim that "the largest ever period instruments orchestra was assembled for the performance". 120 musicians and 80 singers perform live (yes, this is indeed a live performance and not lip-synched), filmed 10 March 1990 in Gloucester Cathedral. These same producers then made the inexplicable decision not to show this vast and glorious assemblage they are so justifiably proud of. Rather, we are treated to grainy film footage of the natural world, such as congealing lava and time-lapse growing grass. Intoxicated by MTV style videos, the film producers decided that a stunning performance filmed in a beautiful cathedral was not what the audience for this music wanted. They were dead wrong!
There's no question that this film would have been fascinating with nothing more than a presentation of the musical performance accompanied by occasional glimpses of the gorgeous Gloucester Cathedral. Whenever the camera roams over the large period forces, the orchestra arrayed both front and center while the singers occupy the side walls, we are treated to breathtaking images of beautiful period instruments in performance of Haydn's sublime music. There is so much of visual interest, neither the camera nor the eye know where to focus next. Unfortunately, as soon as we begin to focus on the performers, we are jerked away to some filmed location that is much less interesting, if not utterly pointless. It is extremely annoying. Less than 5% of the film shows the actual performance, by my reckoning. Obviously, the entire performance was filmed. The decision not to use that film was a tragically boneheaded one. The performance by Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music & Chorus is exemplary. The soloists Emma Kirby, Anthony Rolfe Johnson and Michael George are splendid. But one viewing of this DVD will be more than sufficient. You'll soon wind-up listening to it instead, making it nothing more than a glorified CD. Stick to the Archiv CD recording of The Creation, led by John Eliot Gardiner, which is an even better performance. Another bizarre decision was not to include subtitles in any language. Without a libretto, the words, although the performance is sung in English, fly by so quickly that we can barely understand them. Subtitles are a minimal addition and their absence is another strange production decision.
The bottom line is that a fine performance has been undermined by poor decisions. Unless you are unconcerned by the lack of a performance you can see and the absence of subtitles, I would pass on this DVD. What a pity common sense did not prevail when this performance was filmed and this DVD produced.
Not quite what I expected
Lance Friedel | Warwick, RI USA | 01/10/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a superb musical performance and recording of Haydn's The Creation. The soloists are excellent, as are the chorus and (very large) orchestra of period instruments. It is sung in English. Surprisingly there are no subtitles at all.
The video images are mostly of nature scenery, very beautifully filmed, though there are also some shots of landscape paintings. We also see the musicians at times, although it is not a live performance. We see the whole group only occasionally, and there are also set shots of the soloists with a different background than the church where the recording was made. My suspicion is that the audio recording was made first, then the "performance" visuals were added, with the singers and musicians miming to the audio recording. This was done very well, though there are some places where the images and sound are not perfectly synchronized.
I suppose it depends what you are looking for in a classical music DVD. If you want a video of an actual concert of Haydn's Creation you should look elsewhere (for instance the excellent TDK version conducted by Gustav Kuhn). But you might enjoy this if you like watching nature scenery while listening to music. The music is really wonderful."
Haydn Visits Animal Planet
Giordano Bruno | Wherever I am, I am. | 06/13/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I find that Mike Birman has said everything I meant to say about this DVD - utterly glorious singing from the soloists, relatively clear singing from the choruses and clean playing from the period orchestra, amounting to an excellent CD. But the visual mish-mash of flapping flamingos, time-lapse lava, snippets of engravings by William Blake, and other distracting irrelevancies make the experience of watching the DVD frustrating. I'd rather watch 102 minutes of brass players draining their spittle.
Do read Mike's excellent review! If you're not acquainted with his lucid style, you're missing the most consistently insightful reviewer on amazon soil."