Die Schöpfung - Freiburger Barockorchester / Jacobs - Barbican, 10 January 2009
Despite some scrappy playing here and there, and some downright weird directorial interventions - tinkly salon-style fortepiano interludes, anyone? - the Freiburg Baroque's performance of Haydn's Creation under René Jacobs was rescued by its compelling warmth and joie de vivre. This was largely down to the star soloist, Thomas Quasthoff, whose choice of programme it was.
His voice may lack those dark treacly depths but he knows how to reach out and draw an audience in. Though the vocal parts here have names, the characterisation is embedded more in the text. Quasthoff delivered every word with consideration. The menagerie of of the sixth day was evinced with especial relish, ending with a truly subterranean worm buried deep beneath the stave.
The other soloists couldn't match his exuberance, but they coped ably with their parts, and their restraint provided a fitting counterbalance. Julia Kleiter sang sweetly and clearly, even though the acreage of la Ceci-style embellishment prescribed by Jacobs threatened to overwhelm her resources at times. Maximilian Schmitt started brilliantly, and though he lost focus a bit towards the end, he sang with poise and clarity, and his straightforward sincerity was affecting.
The decision to split the RIAS-Kammerchor into two wings, sopranos and tenors to one side, altos and basses to the other, was not entirely successful from the perspective of those of us not sitting dead-centre in the hall. I was only a few seats away from the centre, but the balance was terrible, entirely weighted to the closest wing, so I can only imagine what the people at the very sides heard. The Barbican acoustics are not kind to such experiments.
But the choir lived up to their reputation as one of the best, with a fantastically well-drilled performance. And what a pleasure to hear the German sung by natives, so uniformly articulated that it could be followed easily without the programme to hand.
The orchestral machine was less well-oiled - intonation, ensemble, balance - all went out of the window at some point or other. But zippy pace and spunky playing enlivened Jacobs's rococo confection, and though I'm no fan of period performance for its own sake, here the details - the lively gut strings, the velvety wood flute, the peremptory rattle of the hard sticks on the timpani - lent such freshness and character that the niggles could be overlooked.