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Posted October 1, 2010
Robert Shaw's Atlanta recording of Haydn's ever popular oratorio The
Creation has many good points to recommend it - flawless choral sing-
ing, an excellent and dedicated team of soloists, fine orchestral play- ing, and a truthful recording quality which is not dry and also
has a flattering spatial presence for all the performers.
So why was I not as enthusiastic with this release as I had hoped and give it a higher rating? There are two answers - first, Shaw chose to perform this work in an English traslation edited by himself and Alice
Parker. The English has little of the idiomatic "bite" and sonority
of the original German, but furthermore, Shaw and Parker "update" the
English and change the text in many places in the process, so the text will not be the same as you may be familiar with.
In truth, I could live with the translation, but first and foremost lies the interpretation itself, and here Shaw's tempo choices of seve- ral of the arias and choruses hinder the natural flow of the work. One would think that a work such as this would move along as a whole no matter which tempi were chosen for the individual movements. Alas, this is not so, to paraphrase the recurring line from the Book of Genesis which is The Creation's subject matter. For example in Part One - the fatally sluggish pace of the tenors' first aria and the bass aria "Rolling in foaming billows", the exultant chorus "Awake the harp" which hardly sounds exultant here. And yet, the close of Part One, "The Heavens are Telling" is taken at a perfect tempo, capping off this section of the oratorio in an appropriately joyful mood.
Part Two fares much better, with only the chorus "The Lord is Great"
having too measured a tempo. The popular chorus and trio "Achieved Is the Glorious Work" is the high point of the performance and leaves one in keen expectation of Part Three, which unfortunately is paced too slowly to command much attention - this is the most problematic part of the work to pace, and here Shaw's ultra-lush tempi esp. in the duets causes the momentum to flag. As usual, the closing chorus is briskly done with splendid thrust and articulation and saves the day.
If more care had been given to the intepretation of the Creation as a whole,rather than its individual movements, this would have been a strong contender for first choice. This is a shame, as there is so much
that sound right here; the chorus, orchestra and soloists all sound com-
mitted. Shaw fans will want this recording, but the rest of you may want
to look elsewhere - Gardiner's version is top of my list, but you may
still want Shaw primarily for the choral singing and the vocals.
Posted October 1, 2010