An old style performance of The Creation from Bernstein
Mike Birman | Brooklyn, New York USA | 08/08/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Filmed in 1986 amongst the breath-taking Baroque splendor of the Benedictine Abbey of Ottobeuren, Bavaria, this old-fashioned performance of Haydn's 1798 choral masterpiece is emotionally raw, unabashedly Romantic and ultimately apocalyptic. Performed under the (literal) cloud of the recent Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the increased tensions between East and West, Bernstein's vision of Haydn's titanic work is of a kind-of redemption through music. This is Haydn seen through a long historical lens that has already glimpsed the orchestral/choral works of Beethoven, Verdi and Mahler. Questions of authenticity are as remote from this performance as one can imagine; even as the historically informed performance movement was gathering steam around him, Bernstein was adamantly going his own interpretive way. It is important to remember, however, that in Haydn's own day the premiere of this Oratorio featured an orchestra containing more than 120 members and a large male chorus. Haydn also provided text in both German and English but Bernstein chooses the German text by Gottfried van Swieten after "Paradise Lost" by John Milton.
Bernstein conducts with all of his usual animation and ardor, several times seeming to levitate above the podium during particularly exciting orchestral climaxes. The Chor und Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks are one of the world's finest ensembles, quite underappreciated but always providing brilliantly appropriate performances. Along with a stellar cast of soloists that include Judith Blegen, Thomas Moser, Kurt Moll, Lucia Popp and Kurt Ollmann, the vast array of forces that fill this profoundly beautiful Baroque Abbey embrace Haydn's musical depiction of creation and humanity's place in it. Their performance is stunningly unified; the threads are masterfully interwoven by Bernstein so that nothing superfluous remains. This is a single musical tapestry that is a splendid representation of interpretive art.
If the recent, more modest 'authentic' performances of Haydn's works are what you crave then you should pass this one by. This is an old-fashioned performance in the best sense of that word. It journeys to the heart of Haydn's emotionally moving choral symphony (for that is what it essentially is) and discovers much solace and consolation along the way. Bernstein is buried less than a kilometer from my window. I'd like to think that his oft troubled spirit is assuaged somewhat by the quantity of beauty he brought into the world.
Both sound and video have been digitally remastered. They are clear though showing some age. The video is not as digitally sharp as we are now used to but there are no age related artifacts. The sound is fine but with slightly less presence than in a modern recording. If we make allowances for age the quality of this DVD recording is excellent.