Triumphant Haydn Performance

By Adam Judd
Members of the Choral Society of the Hamptons enjoyed a break in the clouds as they rehearsed outside before their concert Saturday night. Durell Godfrey

If you are reading this but did not attend the June 27 performance of Joseph Haydn’s “The Creation” by the Choral Society of the Hamptons, the Greenwich Village Chamber Singers, and the South Fork Chamber Orchestra, you either made a huge mistake by staying home or, possibly, just couldn’t find a place to park. The concert was extremely well attended, and the extended ovation at its conclusion testified to the quality both of Haydn’s work and of its performance in the Parish Hall of Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church in East Hampton.

The oratorio, which follows the seven days of creation and is divided into three parts, begins with Haydn’s representation of chaos.  A modern listener unfamiliar with the piece might mistake this for the introduction to a symphony by Beethoven (briefly a student of Haydn’s), due to its reluctance to settle into any particular tonal center. To a listener in 18th century Vienna, the unsettled conclusions of its various phrases must have been quite a torment. The excellent playing of the South Fork Chamber Orchestra guided the audience’s imagination from an initial burst to words from the Book of Genesis, which establish order.

Day 1 introduced listeners to the powerful, rich bass of Enrico Lagasca as the archangel Raphael. The first entrance of the chorus was a crisply articulated pianissimo—always thrilling to hear from a large choir. However, the first choral passage finished with a sudden and decisive shift in volume on the text “and there was light!” and led to Uriel’s first contribution, in the person of the tenor, Nils Neubert. As on previous occasions when performing with the Choral Society, Mr. Neubert’s flexibility, tone, and beautiful handling of the passaggio were in evidence, despite Haydn’s frequently acrobatic demands. The chorus re-established its presence with solid, well-balanced polyphonic entrances depicting the “despairing, cursing rage” of hell’s spirits’ unwilling departure from the “new-created world.”

The third archangel, Gabriel, appears in Day 2 to describe the dividing of the waters on earth from those in the sky. Alison Davy’s vocal interpretation demonstrated an unflawed mix of power, range, tone, litheness, and articulation.

Day 3 sees the ordering of the earthly waters into oceans, rivers, and even brooks, along with the emergence of mountains, plains, fields, and all the vegetation found therein. Of special note in this section is the beautiful soprano aria “With verdure clad, the fields appear.” Here, Haydn saddles the conductor with the awkward task of handling numerous delicate shadings (and suspensions) of the tempo, all while beating six beats to the bar. Mark Mangini, the music director of the Choral Society, deserves special credit for the elegant clarity with which he conducted this movement. With its strong, precise injunction to “awake the harp, the lyre awake!” the chorus once again enlivened the texture of the piece.

Day 4 is the division of night from day, with textual and musical portrayals of the sun and moon. One absolute highlight of the piece is Haydn’s instrumental representation of the first sunrise, exquisitely brought to life by the South Fork Chamber Orchestra and Mr. Mangini. Day 4, as well as Part 1, ends with its perhaps  best-known chorus, “The heavens are telling.” The chorus and soloists alternated to deliver a spirited rendition of this movement, which the erudite program notes from Fred Volkmer propose may have been at least partially inspired by Haydn’s 1791 glimpse of interstellar space through the English astronomer William Herschel’s great telescope.

Day 5 begins with Gabriel describing the advent of avian life. In addition to Ms. Davy’s enchanting singing, Taylor Massey’s beautiful tone on the clarinet brought forth the call of the lark, while Linda Wetherill brought the call of the nightingale to life on the flute. There seemed to be one false note toward the end of the aria, where one of the violins misplayed a chromatic lower neighbor and clashed with the others. However, this split second of unintended dissonance was the only fault to be found with the orchestra. As some readers may know, the membership of the South Fork Chamber Orchestra varies with the needs of each work performed by the Choral Society; however, at this concert, the instrumentalists played as though they had been together for years. Kudos to all for their impeccable intonation and rhythmic ensemble, and to the concertmaster and contractor Song-A Cho for bringing them all together.

That Saturday’s performance was divided into two halves, no doubt for reasons of stamina. Day 5, the final movement preceding  intermission, ended with a magnificent collaboration of chorus and soloists on the text “the Lord is great and great his might; his glory lasts forever,” including several instances of a tantalizing crescendo by the chorus over more than four measures. 

The second act, as it were, included many amusing depictions of insects and mammals by the wind instruments—perhaps most memorably from the contrabassoonist Robert Price. Also of note was Miho Zaitsu’s expressive phrasing on the cello, seemingly intended to represent Eve’s unspoken emotions long before she sings for herself. To end Part 2, the chorus joined the soloists in an exhilarating celebration of creation’s consummation, “Achieved is the glorious work.”

Part 3 presents Adam and Eve in the Garden, finally given voice through the baritone Dominic Inferrera and Alison Davy (previously Gabriel) doubling as Eve. Their first duet is an expression of worship to their creator, interposed with and underscored by subtly conveyed counterpoint from the chorus. Having performed that duty, Adam and Eve then sing magnificently of their love for each other. In the final scene, Uriel returns to suggest (too late, one fears) that the couple will be always happy.

The final chorus (interspersed with solos, including the voice of the mezzo-soprano Christine Cadarette) was itself worth the effort of attending. What is better to a fan of counterpoint than a double fugue? The chorus, orchestra, soloists, conductor, and all those who supported this triumphant concert should be proud of their efforts.

This was truly a performance to remember.