Creationists

By LLOYD SCHWARTZ  |  November 18, 2009

Petrouchka, presented here in its sleeker 1947 revision, was mainly a delight. Luisi can handle Stravinsky's trickiest rhythms, and the orchestra was never less than brilliant. But he had an odd habit of slowing down some of the ballet's vignettes, sentimentalizing Stravinsky's sharper-edged comic vision and actually reducing rather than enhancing its poignance. The tinkly tune that darts through the busy Shrovetide Fair music ("She Had a Wooden Leg" — a tune Stravinsky appropriated after hearing it on a hurdy-gurdy) sounded about as saucy as "Moon River." Vytas Baksys was the lively pianist, whom Stravinsky gives a lot more to do in this version.

To commemorate the second anniversary of the death of its founder and guiding spirit, Craig Smith, Emmanuel Music completed this fall's series of Haydn/Schoenberg concerts with one of the most joyous compositions in all music, Haydn's Die Schöpfung, or The Creation, as led by acting artistic director and celebrated composer John Harbison, the guiding spirit of this series. Harbison's buoyant tempos kept the orchestra and singers responsive to every turn in the music: Haydn's wonderful evocations of creatures of the air, sea, and earth; the love between Adam and Eve; and the very act of creation itself with which Haydn's oratorio begins, emerging from chaos (Haydn's uncanny harmonies) into a new world of sweetness and radiant light.

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CHARM AND HEFT Lise de la Salle had both in her performance of Saint-Saëns’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with Fabio Luisi and the BSO.

Harbison did a bit of creating himself. He began the concert with a most unusual piece, probably the East Coast premiere of Schoenberg's Genesis Prelude, something he composed during his residence in Hollywood for a 1945 project called Genesis Suite, to which a number of émigré composers contributed a section each. (Schoenberg's came first, Stravinsky's last.) It, too, is a depiction of the universe emerging from chaos, in the form of a powerful 12-tone double fugue; it ends in a wordless chorus that's both pure Schoenberg and pure Hollywood. Harbison segued the Schoenberg into the Haydn, suggesting an across-the-centuries continuity of the creative spirit. Some members of the audience may have been — and not inappropriately — baffled, but it was a wonderful gesture.

Both pieces had cherishable qualities: warmth, engagement, charm, passion, life. They breathed. They soared. The playing was consistently eloquent and characterful, from concertmaster Rose Mary Harbison's chilling filament of Schoenbergian DNA for solo violin to the enchanting warbling in flutist Jacqueline DeVoe's Haydn birds to Michael Beattie's scampering piano accompaniment of the Haydn recitatives.

The vocal soloists in the Haydn also rose to the occasion. The creation of the universe is narrated by three angels. Raphael was baritone David Kravitz, who starts by announcing, "In the beginning," and also has the celebrated recitative describing the "numberless creatures" issuing from Earth's womb: tawny lion, leaping tiger, grazing herds of pastoral cattle, right down to the sinuously creeping worm (each creature imitated in the orchestra). In sumptuously flexible voice, singing a role usually reserved for the deepest basses, Kravitz captured both the stentorian grandeur of declamation and Haydn's tender, wide-eyed, yet also knowing snapshots of the animal kingdom.

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