Chicago Sun-Times and suntimes.com, October 28, 2011 6:17 PM CDT
Conductor Bernard Haitink
Bernard Haitink, CSO and Chorus conjure up a heavenly Haydn's ‘Creation’
Veteran conductor's first performances of historic score
CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Repeats 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Orchestra Hall, 220 South Michigan Avenue
(312) 294-3000; cso.org.
BY ANDREW PATNER
It comes as little surprise that, even at 82, Bernard Haitink brings the same remarkable gifts of clarity, buoyancy, lyricism, and humanity to a work new to his repertoire as he does to the longtime pillars of his career.
For Haitink, former principal conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, is guided almost exclusively by the twin stars of musical integrity and personal humility. When you add his decades of experience to the time that he puts into study and contemplation of scores, you wish that he could take up any and all masterworks he has yet to perform.
Though he has had the lifelong acquaintance with Haydn that is a part of a classical musician’s life and has shown a special affinity for his symphonies, Haitink had never led the late, summing-up oratorio The Creation (1796-98) before this week’s concerts. Thursday night at Orchestra Hall, you could hear not only the results of the conductor’s study and insights, but also a lifetime of reflection on the meaning (and limitations?) of religion, of poetry, of tradition, and of that great framing era that Haydn helped to close out and that Haitink’s native Netherlands played such a key role in establishing: the Enlightenment.
Inspired by the massive oratorios of English tradition, especially those of another native German speaker, Handel, The Creation is very much a work of texts, for both soloists and chorus. The words, whether performed in German or, as here, in English (Haydn made dual versions), inspire the music, even when the instrumental parts of the score preview the vocal lines. What is this Biblical creation story really about, both Haydn and Haitink seem to be asking. Would the Creator still pronounce His work as “good” today? Can we know any more in the end than that innocent-then-fallen couple Adam and Eve?
It is hard to imagine this 110-minute (with Haitink’s sometimes stately tempos) musical narration having a better instrumental or choral presentation than it had here. Suspicious of piety and allergic to pomposity, Haitink both found the work’s simplicity and unfolded the intricacies that two centuries of listeners and players have called Bach-like. Without breaking flow, he inspired passages on the bringing forth of animals and the other creeping, crawling, and swimming things that were, as they should be, laugh out loud funny.
Reduced strings, wind sections, and soloists were all a part of a single team, curious and eager. Duain Wolfe’s Chicago Symphony Chorus, almost always a marvel, showed a coiled strength and a contrast between near silence and C Major celebrations rare even in its own illustrious history.
As the chief tale-telling archangel Uriel, English tenor Ian Bostridge was all that this part can and should be: knowing, confident, confiding, hypnotic. He also had the distinct advantage of total command of the English tongue, something that often defied Swedish soprano Klara Ek and German bass-baritone Hanno Mueller-Brachmann, also attractive, younger singers more believable as the Edenic couple of the work’s third and final part than they were as Uriel’s companions Gabriel and Raphael. British fortepianist James Johnstone and CSO principal cellist John Sharp were the ever-attentive and supportive continuo players.
Filled with infectious energy in this residency, Haitink looked very, very happy as the seventh day received its last “Amen.”