There are few pieces of music that satisfy me more completely than Franz Josef Haydn’s oratorio, Creation. Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus performed it for a rousing send-off to the 2022 season at Millennium Park’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion on Saturday night. With the help of soprano Maeve Hoglundtenor Duke Kim and bass/baritone Douglas Williams, artistic director/conductor Carlos Kalmar led the orchestra and choir in a performance that had several moments of pure magic.
In three parts, Haydn Creation tells the story of the first two chapters of Genesis. The original English libretto had been prepared for George Frideric Handel 50 years earlier. English was not very good and Handel did not use it. Haydn set the music to a German translation. As the performance approached, I was hoping that Grant Park Chorus was using one of the Modern English revisions. To my surprise, Williams’ first vocal cord words were in German.
Any good performance of Creation requires subtlety and finesse to bring out the formless void Genesis’ opening verses to the stage. Under Kalmar’s baton, the orchestra oozed an eerie calm and sadness. Williams, backed by the chorus, added just the right amount of suspense and anticipation. It was a perfect set up for the arrival of the light. When it finally happened, it was awesome.
Haydn focused a lot on the soloists, who captured the good feelings Saturday night, whether they were singing alone or together. Their interactions with the orchestra were memorable, as in the second part, when Höglund and the principal flute and Williams and the principal cello exchanged melodies. The trio also blended well with David Schrader, whose fortepiano accompaniment came through in quieter moments.
Kim was also crisp, especially in the recitative that introduces one of the work’s highlights, “Die Himmel erzählen” (“The Heavens Tell”). Saturday night’s performance of this gem that closes the first part gave me goosebumps.
The orchestra faithfully reproduced the many sound effects Haydn had assigned to it, such as raindrops, animal roars, and gusts of wind. The Grant Park Chorus, which, under the direction of Michael Black, fitted in well, helped enormously. One of the many magical moments was their gradual entry into Part 3, when Adam and Eve enter the story. The duo of Williams and Höglund sang these parts with the light passion called for in the libretto. As it should have been, “Mit Dir” (“With You”) was a highlight.
Although there were a few moments where the strings were off and the horns warped, the performance was excellent. The only downside was the printed booklet, which in a few places incorrectly indicated who was singing what. But that was nothing compared to the excellence that emanated from the Pritzker Pavilion stage.
One of the sad parts of the summer finale is the end of the Grant Park Music Festival. Barring a return of the pandemic or other unfortunate conditions, there is something to look forward to next June.