It isn't wise to hear the greatest masterworks of music too frequently, lest they become stale and lose their beauty and impact.
Nevertheless, four years too many have gone by since the National Symphony last performed Joseph Habdn's oratorio "The Creation."
All this was remedied last night at Wolf Trap, and to sovereign effect as guest conductor John 1nelson led the orchestra with the University of Maryland chorus and soloist soprano Pamela Coburn as the archangel Gabriel as well as Eve; ternor Micheal Talley as the angel Uriel, Metropolitan Opera bass Donald Gramm as Raphael and, in a small surprise, a baritone singing the part of Adam -- Robert Orth. Often is sung by the bass who sings the part of Raphael.
Nelson, the young music director of the Indianapolis Symphony, led a performance sung in English. It was his own translation of Gottfried van Swieten's setting of Book One from Milton's "Paradise Lost" and the Book of Genesis. And as a translation, it was eminently musical, if also at times poetically questionable.
But, thankfully, the music did not suffer. The orchestra played beautifully for Nelson and the Maryland chorus sang with great nobility and precise enunciation.
Nelson kept affairs moving grandly along throughout this vast choral and orchestral canvas. His tempi, while slightly on the quick side -- especially in the choruses -- did not rob Haydn's great Handelian choral sections of any ounce of grandeur. Haydn's contrapuntal magnificance shone clearly through.
Indeed, the glory of thid concert was its high level of choral singing, for instance, the loud C Major chord at the words "and there was light," which had a riveting power in both chorus and orchestra. And then too there were other moments of inexpressible beauty from the orchestra, for instance Toshiko Kohno's silvery flute imitating the lowing of cattle in Raphael's Recitatide, No. 21, and flute figures in the opening "Chaos" section.
While the vocal soloists had momentary problems with pitch and ensemble, the pronounciation of Nelson's text was clear and understandable. Gramm was in his best form as Rapheal, though on occasion he was covered by an orchestra playing too loud. Pamela Coburn, who easily glided over Haydn's high notes, had some difficulty with pitch, and at times she sang too loud. Both Micheal Talley and Robert Orth were commendable, but when Coburn and Orth were singing Adam and Eve in Part 3 one had the distinct impression that the two had been around for years rather than just a few weeks.
Wolf Trap's placing mikes on the stage, however, caused some very harsh sounds, and this practice should be discontinued.