Superb soloists soar in Haydn’s “Creation” at Grant Park finale 

Sat Aug 20, 2022 at 1:12 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Duke Kim, Douglas Williams and Maeve Höglund were soloists in Haydn’s The Creation Friday night at the Grant Park Music Festival. Photo: Norman Timonera

One could hardly have wished for a more ideal and fitting summer evening for the final program of the Grant Park Music Festival season. The beneficent weather seemed to reflect the joy and effervescence of the single work on tap Friday night, Franz Joseph Haydn’s The Creation.

Sadly, there were plenty of sonic distractions on hand as well, especially in the first half—from low-flying helicopters to blasts of feedback from a stage mic, and a ceaseless onslaught of police and ambulance sirens that seemed to betoken even more urban carnage than usual.

Fortunately, Carlos Kalmar, the evening’s soloists and the forces of the Grant Park Orchestra and Grant Park Chorus rose above the din to deliver a spirited and quite wonderfully sung performance of Haydn’s celebrated oratorio.

Cast in three parts, The Creation depicts nothing less than the first book of Genesis, telling of God’s creation of the earth, all of the planet’s creatures and eventually Adam and Eve (the scenario stays in happier, pre-serpent times). With the religious composer clearly energized by the Biblical narrative, a strong spiritual inspiration courses through the oratorio, which contains some of Haydn’s finest late music.

The music in Part One is especially striking, not least the orchestral introduction. Kalmar spaciously drew out this unsettling “Representation of Chaos,” where the dark, formless void is depicted with unmoored harmonics and strangely modern-sounding music. The meandering lines segue into the solo bass’s entrance and ultimately an explosion of incandescence with the chorus’s “Let there be light.”

Kalmar, the festival’s artistic director, brought out Haydn’s playful musical onomatopoeia—like the jarring sonic blast on “heavy beasts”—and led a vital performance that conveyed the composer’s ingenuity. Momentum sagged a bit after intermission with Kalmar’s thrusting style tending to stint on the score’s piquancy and charm. Yet the performance culminated in an engaging rendering of Adam and Eve’s duet and a rousing final chorus of heavenly praise.

In this final program of its concentrated ten-week season, the Grant Park Orchestra displayed fitful moments of fatigue and patchy string ensemble. Yet much of the wind playing was inspired, especially the horns and the avian tone painting of principal flutist Mary Stolper.

The trio of soloists proved first-class, the best this listener has heard live in this work since Georg Solti’s CSO performance in 1993 (fortunately preserved on a London recording).

Back for her second festival stint in as many weeks, Maeve Höglund was nearly as impressive as in Vaughan Williams’ Dona nobis pacem. If her coloratura passages sounded a bit cautious Friday night, she brought the requisite tonal purity and sweetness to the lilting “With verdure clad” and was a radiant Eve in the final duet.

The bass serves as a quasi-narrator in the first two sections and Douglas Williams delivered Raphael’s pronouncements with a deep sonority and patriarchal gravitas. 

One can quibble that Höglund and Williams could have relaxed and conveyed more of a sense of fun as Adam and Eve in Part Three, but both soprano and bass stayed in serious oratorio mode throughout.

Best of all was Duke Kim. The young singer possesses a vibrant high tenor, ideal for German oratorio and Evangelist roles. His singing throughout was terrific—unerringly rich in tone and expressively detailed, as with “ In native worth and honor clad.”

Lyric Opera’s Michael Black was the guest chorus director for this program. While the chorus’s SATB sections could have been more distinctly delineated, the Grant Park Chorus largely delivered the Haydn goods, bringing a blast of sun-like brilliance to “Let there be Light” and festive jubilation to “The heavens are telling.” 

After intermission festival president and CEO Paul Winberg announced the retirement of two longtime Grant Park musicians. Robert Heitzinger, a Grant Park Chorus bass for 32 years, is retiring, and Grant Park Orchestra pianist Andrea Swan is stepping down after 47 seasons.

The Creation will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Posted in Performances

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