Haydn's oratorio "The Creation" begins in chaos. It ends in Paradise, with a long, ecstatic series of duets between Adam and Eve, with choruses that recall Handel at the height of his powers.

Between these extremes, Haydn evokes the creation of the world as narrated in the Book of Genesis.

At the creation of the animals, the music roars like a lion, springs like a tiger and even gives special attention (in the twisting of the solo baritone's vocal line) to the "sinuous" creeping of the worm.

But the appeal of the music lies mostly in its sheer, radiant beauty.

If Haydn had not composed 100-plus symphonies and 80-plus string quartets, this work would be sufficient to show the essential qualities of his mature style and to brand him as one of the supreme masters in music's history.

Sunday at the Unitarian Church of Arlington, under the able baton of music director Vera Tilson, the Arlington Unitarian Choir and Orchestra gave a performance of "The Creation" that did justice to Haydn's genius and satisfaction to a capacity audience. A more powerful performance could be imagined, but it would be hard to find one more dedicated or inspired.

Tilson's solidly trained chorus was consistently the finest performer of the evening.

The orchestra was not always perfectly polished and precise, and the sound could have been more opulent, but it conveyed all the effects Haydn put into the music with impact and clarity. All three soloists began a bit tentatively but improved steadily throughout the program.

Soprano Martha Randall and baritone Timothy Taylor, in particular, rose splendidly to the challenges of ensemble singing in the final "Paradise" section.

Tenor Thomas Gregg had minor problems throughout the evening but clearly knew what the music was about.