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Haydn's 'Creation' ends Hays Symphony season in triumph

Guest conductor Don Moses, Hays Symphony Orchestra, guest soloist Charles Turley, baritone; soloists Ivalah Allen, soprano; Joseph Perniciaro, tenor; Calder Craig, baritone; and the Masterworks Choir gave a performance of Franz Joseph Haydn's oratorio "The Creation" on Sunday afternoon that, in my opinion, came as close to describing the actual event as anything ever has.

Moses, a 1959 Fort Hays State University graduate, now an internationally famed authority on Haydn, enabled orchestra, soloists and chorus to conclude the season in a blaze of glory.

As its title suggests, "The Creation" follows Genesis, books 1 and 2, with a text adapted from John Milton's "Paradise Lost" by an unknown English author. (Haydn was given the text on a visit to London. He commissioned Gottfried von Swieten to provide both an English and German libretto. Swieten's English was poor, so the text has been revised repeatedly.)

Despite the odd provenance of the text, both text and music show the absolute stylistic clarity of 18th-century Rationalism, better known in Germany as "Aufklaerung" or "Enlightenment." As in Genesis, the oratorio moves day by day from chaos through the creation of man. There is numerical symbolism, if not symmetry. The work is in three parts (a trinity, each one ending in a chorus praising God), and consists of 33 cantos (the age of Jesus).

Haydn composed the music to enhance the intelligibility of the text. Important content is communicated in recitatives with little or no orchestral accompaniment. Most of the recitatives are sung by the baritone, whose singing range is closest to that of normal speech. All recitatives, including those for soprano and tenor, lie in the middle range. There are plenty of fireworks, but Haydn saved them for the arias, duets, choruses and orchestral interludes.

There is a lot of tone painting. The undulations of the sea are reflected in the baritone aria "Rolling in Foaming Billows." The soprano aria "With Verdure Clad" is chock full of hills and valleys created through fiendishly difficult up and downhill runs. A number of orchestral passages evoke the sounds of beasts and insects -- a marvelous string and flute interlude conveys the flights of birds; lions roar; insects hum; worms wriggle along.

To ensure a fine performance, the conductor, soloists, chorus and orchestra must do their part. Moses made sure none of the singers were drowned out by the orchestra and everything hung together. The soloists sang well. Allen's voice naturally is clear and refreshing as spring water. She had no trouble communicating the words, though she had a couple of awkward instants negotiating the hills and valleys. One of Perniciaro's greatest talents is impeccable diction, and he sang a couple of high passages pianissimo with beauty and incredible artistry. Guest baritone Turley performed his long role consistently well, with no signs of tiring. Student Craig, the chorus and orchestra did FHSU proud. The performance ended with a standing ovation.

The FHSU Bands Concert is at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center.

Ruth Firestone is a supporter of music and theater in Hays.