Sunday evening, Helzberg Hall in the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts was filled with soaring processions of musicians celebrating God's creation. Conducted by Mark Ball, Director of Music Ministry at Village Presbyterian Church, The Village Choir and Orchestra, the choirs of UMKC Conservatory of Music and William Jewell College, with soloists Sarah Tannehill Anderson, Jessica Salley, Christopher Reames, David Farwig, and Devin Burton, combined forces to gloriously present The Creation, an oratorio by Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809).
Georg Fridrich Händel (1685-1759) developed the English oratorio platform in the 1740s after losing a fortune in the English opera industry. Oratorio followed the general opera form of the day: vocal solos, ensembles and choruses interspersed with dances, except without scenery, dancers, costumes or acting; a much less expensive production form, retaining the music and nothing else. Händel's transition to oratorio was partly responsible for his dying a wealthy and renowned artist.
Reduced duties in Haydn's employment in the princely Esterházy household permitted Haydn to travel to London twice in the 1790s under the sponsorship of British impresario, Johann Peter Salomon. This turned out to be a lucrative set of stays for Franz Joseph, composing and presenting his London Symphonies and other works in numerous well-attended concerts. In his first year in London he earned as much as his most recent twenty years in Austria. He had the occasion to become acquainted with Händel's works, particularly the oratorios, which were still frequently performed, over thirty years after that composer's death.
Haydn's late years were devoted mostly to composing sacred music. The Creation, 1798, followed Händel's oratorio format, but was certainly a vehicle of transition for the composer. The overture, representing chaos before creation, departed from Haydn's normally ordered style, with melodic snippets, vague chordal sounds, rather like an Eighteenth Century Stravinsky. Haydn could not avoid introducing the lark during chaos, in the form of a beautifully-played lyric flute. He did incorporate respected forms, as the bass-initiated fugue of Chorus, Number 28, "Fulfilled at last the glorious work," and the tenor evangelist as narrator, the angel Uriel, lustrously sung by Mr. Reames in tonight's performance.
The combined chorus with trio, Number 19, "The Lord is great, and great His might," at the end of the fifth day, is notable for its romantic, bombastic emotionalism, much like one would associate with Beethoven (1770-1827) Haydn's on-and-off student. We do know that Beethoven attended a Vienna performance of the work in 1808 in the composer's honor, conducted by Maestro Antonio Salieri; the latter had the honor of narrating the 20th Century movie, Amadeus. Many musicologists state that musical style was the most important lesson the younger Beethoven took from Haydn.
Tonight's presentation was essentially flawless. David Farwig (angel Raphael) fully released his mellow baritone by the number 3 recitative, "And God made the firmament," which concluded with a beautiful lyric section, putting Mr. Farwig's highs to good use. Mr. Farwig did not disappoint in number 22, "Now shines the brightest glory of heaven," a showpiece of soft and loud, highs and lows, frequently sung in concerts by the best basses.
Sarah Tannehill Anderson negotiated all of the florid, Händelian lines with ease, and was never covered by chorus or orchestra. The duets and solos by Mr. Burton and Ms Salley (Adam and Eve) were clear and ample, borrowing some operatic nuance by occasionally glancing appreciatively at each other. Devin Burton was notable for his seemingly effortless timbre; even at pianissimo he was audible well into the hall, over chorus and orchestra.
The well-rehearsed combined chorus worked well together, a nod, not only to conductor, Mark Ball, but to UMKC's Dr. Charles Robinson and William Jewell's Dr. Anthony Maglione for the preparation of their respective choruses. The precision required in the fugues was matched by the great chorales, such as the worshipful number 13, "The heavens are telling the glory of God." The fifty-something orchestra responded well to every nuance required by the composer, whether fanfare, contemplation, or sustained mystery; Kansas City is wealthy in fine musicians.
Rev. Tom Are, Jr., Senior Pastor of Village Church, came to the stage front at the conclusion of this ephemeral work of art and declared it his job to offer a blessing; but, he said that if we had not been already blessed, we had not been paying attention.
Sister Berta Sailer spoke during the intermission after day six, to emphasize the importance of Operation Breakthrough. Based at 31st and Troost, she and Sister Corita Bussanmas founded the organization in 1971; it provides childcare and social services for working-poor families. All donations from the evening went to this work; further support from the public will be appreciated.