Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 44
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
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Princeton Pro Musica Opens Season With Rousing Performance of Haydn Oratorio

Nancy Plum

Princeton Pro Musica chose an almost-perfect work for the opening concert of its 2008-09 season on Sunday afternoon in Richardson Auditorium. Franz Joseph Haydn’s oratorio the Creation was ideal for the 100-voice ensemble, with its sporadic and very singable choruses, programmatic orchestration, and operatic solos. Written by a composer well-versed in symphony, opera, and sacred mass, the Creation has something for everyone, and is chock full of instrumental nuances and characters, as well as rich late 18th century choruses.

Completed in 1798, the Creation draws from almost all of Haydn’s compositional genres. The basic story line is from the Book of Genesis, with an operatic addendum beginning the story of Adam and Eve. Choruses (especially the final chorus) are drawn from Haydn’s late mass style, and individual instruments within the orchestra are treated as characters, just as the three vocal soloists who narrate the work. The toughest job in this performance falls to the conductor, and Pro Musica conductor Frances Fowler Slade had the piece remarkably well in hand, shifting easily among moods and tempi.

Ms. Slade looked immediately to set the drama with the sustained chords of the opening overture. The orchestra for the concert maintained a consistently high quality throughout the performance, with the winds coming through the strings well. The opening overture and accompanied recitative are very difficult in their continual shifts in tempi, and other than a few nicked entrances from players, the piece was off and running well. The men of Pro Musica had more than a little meat in their sound, and certain choruses demonstrated vintage Pro Musica singing.

Joining Pro Musica for this concert were soprano Sarah Pelletier, tenor Scott Murphree, and bass Christopher Temporelli, all of whom were expressive and communicative in relaying the Creation story. Both Mr. Murphree and Mr. Temporelli declaimed the text well, with Mr. Temporelli possessing an especially resonant voice (when he declared “and it was so,” one truly believed him). Mr. Murphree consistently sang with a full, yet not overpowering sound. His first aria was presented at a good tempo, accompanied by some very nice lower strings.

Ms. Pelletier sang with a mature and confident sound, yet when the time came for coloratura singing (principally in Part Three), she was more than up to the task, easily providing the descriptive sparkle required by the text. Her first aria was well answered by a robust chorus, and her “air” describing the emergence of fields and flowers was charmingly sung, gracefully accompanied by bassoonist Seth Baer. Her Part Two aria, describing the eagle in flight, was clearly a cornerstone aria of the work, and was one of the longest numbers. Some of these arias are tiny operas in themselves, and in this case, characters were effectively “portrayed” by flutist Mary Schmidt and clarinetist Tibi Cziger.

Haydn’s orchestration is also an opera in itself, and if one listened carefully enough to the orchestra, one would have heard the Creation story told among the instruments. Most notable were the creation of light, in which the sun rose through the upper strings and winds; and the description of the creatures of the earth. The text was clearly portrayed through the instrumentation, and the orchestra consistently maintained precision and elegance in their playing.

Haydn’s Creation is the type of work which is the type of work which Pro Musica does best — choruses are not overly difficult or taxing, and the ensemble can use its solid sound to support the rest of the cast. Together with the solid performance of soloists and instrumentalists, Pro Musica was able to provide a compelling afternoon for concert-goers.

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