Haydn's oratorio The Creation is a glorious, exhilarating work, one of the triumphs of the choral literature. I can think of at least two earlier performances in Madison in my time, as done by the Madison Symphony Orchestra and its chorus. One was in 2002 under John DeMain. The prior one was in the spring of 1974. Led by Roland Johnson, it had special meaning for me. I sang (joyously) in the chorus for it, and then, a few weeks later, I was in Vienna and visited Haydn's house, now a museum -- the very house where Haydn composed this wonderful music. It was still in my ears, and it vibrated through the place for me as I walked its rooms. Unforgettable!
So I looked forward with high expectations to the April 2 performance of The Creation by the Wisconsin Chamber Choir. And I was not disappointed. (Disclosure: I gave a pre-concert lecture.) The setting itself, the Masonic Center auditorium, was meaningful to begin with, for Haydn himself was briefly a Freemason in Vienna, and Masonic imagery and ideas peek out as a subtext in this and others of his works. (Over the center's entrance reads the Masonic motto: "Let there be Light", words that Haydn actually set in his score, with dazzling effect.)
Fortunately, too, the music-making was simply splendid. Having brought off Bach's St. John Passion last season, conductor Robert Gehrenbeck once more showed bold enterprise in tackling this new and major project. With great directorial skill and with thorough understanding of the music, he brought it off triumphantly. His choir of 42 singers was augmented with 18 members of the Stoughton Chamber Singers, all singing (in English) with lusty sonority. A chamber orchestra of 31 players was made up of local instrumentalists: there were a few blemishes in tricky passages, but the playing was remarkably crisp and compelling, with some particularly beautiful wind work. That these players and Gehrenbeck could manage this with only two orchestral rehearsals is a great tribute to the professionalism involved.
For the solo assignments, there were five singers in all. Of those who portrayed the three archangels in Parts I and II, tenor J. Adam Shelton (Uriel) and bass Brian Leeper (Raphael) sang their parts with strength and style, but soprano Deanna Horjus-Lang (Gabriel) brought a special beauty to her work, soaring over everyone else with radiant clarity. For Part III we were given two new soloists, Madeline Olsen (a member of the choir) as Eve and bass Michael Roemer as Adam. Their glowingly beautiful, fresh young voices captured perfectly the charming innocence of the Primal Pair.
Solos and choruses, tumbled forth one after the other, each with new melodic beauties, nature evocations, and rich majesty, to express the beauties of our world and the optimism of faith. At a time now so full of anger, ugliness, and hostilities, we need all the uplift we can get. Thanks to Gehrenbeck and Haydn, that was what we came away with in grateful abundance.