In the gospel according to Haydn, the Creation is accomplished in a glorious two hours of song, chorus and marvelous orchestral tone painting. The story is Haydn's meat. His dramatic imagination reveled in the chaos that preceded God's ordering. His playful imagination delighted in the creation of every animal from whales to worms. And his romantic imagination has a field day with Adam and Eve.
The Paul Hill Chorale's performance of the oratorio at the Kennedy Center yesterday was, at best, a shakedown cruise through the music. The bugs that were discovered, like orchestral snafus at the beginnings of movements, were the sort that a little more rehearsing could have repaired. But the pervasively mechanical unfolding of notes and phrases cast a depressing pall over the whole creative feat.
This was Hill's responsibility. His chorus can do whatever he asks of it. It is good. And the orchestra seemed not only competent but willing. But, too often, Hill's swinging and undifferentiated beat seemed to be the very antithesis of what Haydn's music implies.
Soprano Donna Gullstrand sang both Gabriel and Eve with an agility and an accuracy that matched the musical requirements nicely. Tenor James McDonald continues to let poorly handled words get in the way of what is a basically good voice. And baritone Richard Clark's fine vocal production could not make up for his inability to stay with the rest of the ensemble.
Several questions occur also about mechanics of this performance; in particular, why the piece was sung in English instead of in the original and far more vivid German; and why, in this setting and for this music, the chorus was organized in quartets instead of sections where the power of the fugal entrances would have been so much more emphatic.