In the beginning was middle C -- and that's just the first of many beautiful matings of text and music in Haydn's "The Creation," the mighty work being performed this weekend by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in honor of the Lenten season.
"The Creation" is one of two oratorios (the other is "The Seasons") that occupied Franz Josef Haydn (1732-1809) for the last years of his life.
In 1791, Haydn visited England, received an honorary doctorate at Oxford University and heard a splendid English choir sing two of Handel's oratorios.
Inspired to tackle a choral-orchestral work of similar grandeur, Haydn spent about five years on "The Creation," based on the first two chapters of Genesis with a liberal dollop of Milton's "Paradise Lost."
The BSO performances, led by Sir Neville Marriner, are graced by the customary fine work of the symphony chorus, a 128-member ensemble rehearsed by Edward Polochick. The orchestra, reduced to 65 players, performed with skill, barring a couple of odd notes here and there.
The soloists, however, are a mixed lot. Tenor Anthony Griffey's pleasant lyric voice is by far the most suitable.
Karen Clift's fleet, clear, lovely soprano is much too small to carry over the choral and orchestral forces.
And Chinese baritone Chen-Ye Yuan, a prize-winning singer working on a diploma at the Peabody Conservatory of Music, sings syllabically, with no feel for the sounds or sense of English.
This is too bad, for while the chorus gets such magnificent anthems as "The heavens declare the glory of God," most of the word-painting goes to the soloists. Griffey, as the Archangel Uriel, has a wonderful passage in which the first sunrise is underscored by a glorious orchestral dawn.
Unfortunately, the chorus and soloists were assigned a clunky translation. (Why not try the more singable, poetic version by Robert Shaw? It's got to be better than "On mighty pinions rising.")
And why did the BSO print 12,000 copies of a completely different translation for the audience? However, we had our chance to contribute. The first page turn occurred just as the Lord made grasses and trees, and the audience's rustle was like the fall of a million leaves.
By Franz Josef Haydn
When: 8 p.m. tonight and tomorrow
Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.
Pub Date: 3/13/98