Octavos director Curtis Funk has barely been on the podium for a year, but on Sunday afternoon at St. Luke’s Church before a large crowd, he and the 88-voice chorus made a major effort in presenting Haydn’s “The Creation.” A 16-member orchestra and soloists soprano Vedrana Kalas, tenor Michael Lotano and baritone Alexander Jones were also featured. Overall, the concert was a success.
The work, which was written late in Haydn’s life, is a wonderfully sunny oratorio that’s filled with much sweet lyricism supported by some of the composer’s most imaginative classical writing. Many times he provided descriptive support for the text, which was based on the Book of Genesis and Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” This could range from stormy, dark harmonies for “rolling in foaming billows” to racing passages when talking about the tigers, stags and steeds in how fertile earth’s womb was or a pastoral setting for the lowing of the cattle. These passages gave much charm to the 105 minute work.
The singers were the three archangels who revealed the creation story: Kalas was Gabriel, Lotano was Uriel and Jones was Raphael. They each sang several arias in English, although Jones had the lion’s share. Kalas had a big rich voice and did some nice phrasing but her words were too often garbled.
Lotano has a clear, lyrical voice, which easily projected, and sang with excellent diction and a confident manner. His “And God saw the light ... Now vanish before the holy beams” was especially good. Toward the end of the work, he seemed tired.
Jones’s richly centered tones rolled out with eloquence in smooth phrases. Although his diction was excellent, his bottom range did not project as well as his middle to top ranges, which soared. His “Rolling in foaming billows,” the three sections that began with “Let the earth bring forth,” and “By thee with bliss,” which he did with Kalas, were terrific.
The chorus had much less to do, although they had to stand throughout the entire work — the soloists got to sit down. Haydn often used them to make commentary or just to support what the soloists were doing. Now and then, they had their own show. Generally, their diction was good and they sounded balanced and very enthusiastic. Sometimes, the sopranos sounded strained. The work is tricky in that Haydn employed the chorus here and there, even within an aria. Fortunately, Funk provided strong cues and a solid stick technique.
The orchestra played mostly non-stop. There were some pitch and balance issues but not enough to mar the performance. The three-flute work in the second half was especially mellifluous.