REVIEW: Pro Arte Singers and IU Chamber Orchestra share happy oratorio with audiences


MUSIC REVIEW: Pro Arte Singers and IU Chamber Orchestra share happy oratorio with audiences

By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer |
November 5, 2012

Before the Pro Arte Singers/IU Chamber Orchestra performance of Haydn’s oratorio, “The Creation,” was exported to the Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis on Sunday afternoon, two Bloomington audiences had earlier opportunities, on Friday and Saturday evenings, to experience its beauties in Auer Hall.

Lovingly prepared and effectively conducted by William Jon Gray, the oratorio, a treasure written by Haydn in his late years, seemed to spread joy. One noticed smiles both on faces in the audience and on stage as music and words retold the Genesis story of Earth’s week of origin.

“The Creation” is a happy work with happy message and song. Haydn and his librettists chose to stop the two-hour composition just short of the first trouble, before Adam and Eve’s apple episode. The archangel Uriel merely hints of change as he intones these words: “O happy pair, and happy you will ever be, if vain delusion does not lead you astray to want more than you have and to know more than you should!” But instead of more narrative, there follows the rousing final chorus: “Let every voice sing to the Lord.” At that point, the music stops.

Haydn’s score is laden with striking moments that start with the remarkable Introduction which, through shifting harmonics and wayward rhythms, first suggests the chaos of darkness and then, as we’re told the Earth forms, calls upon the orchestra to produce a mighty C major chord to the words, “And there was light!” Later, up-and-down scales announce water and waves. Birds warble and trill as they arrive. The flute accompanies the addition of animals to the landscape.

The IU Chamber Orchestra played splendidly throughout, which made for a strong foundation. Ultimately, of course, an oratorio depends on the quality of voices. And here, Maestro Gray was fortunate to have the fine Pro Arte Singers, three dozen vocalists who not only blend beautifully but possess topnotch individual voices.

He proved the latter by selecting five soloists from within the ensemble’s membership, and they were terrific. Haydn and his librettist, Gottfried van Swieten, had assigned the story telling recitatives and supporting arias, pre the appearance of Adam and Eve, to three archangels. This presentation’s trio (also on Saturday and Sunday) consisted of soprano Jessica Beebe (Gabriel), tenor James Michael Porter (Uriel), and baritone Nathaniel Olson (Raphael). One could not have asked for better. Their German was excellent. Their dramatic involvement in recitatives was convincing. Their fine singing voices were well suited for Haydn’s arias, whether asked to carry a simple line or bounce through musical embroidery.

The three had to sing an awful lot, causing this listener (who attended the opening performance on Friday) to wonder whether their voices would hold through two additional weekend performances. One hopes they did.

Soprano Christine Buras and baritone Jeremy Johnson, as Eve and Adam, had fewer notes to sing, but they sang at the same high level as their archangelic colleagues. The critically important chorus, the Pro Arte Singers, acquitted itself as expected. Conductor Gray, whose insightful interpretive vision imbued the whole of this “Creation,” brought forth from the choral ensemble a continuing and welcome resonance and radiance that fully served Haydn’s gorgeous hosannas.

Copyright: 2012


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