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NSO, Klara Ek, and 'The Creation'

Soprano Klara Ek (photo by Sussie Ahlburg)
The National Symphony Orchestra’s presentation of Haydn’s Creation has been fittingly scheduled to coincide with May Day and the new beginnings of spring. Based on the Old Testament's version of pre-history, the work progresses from a void of darkness through the Earth’s physical creation, emphasizing the bounteousness of nature and culminating in the sweetness of humanity.

Last night, Swedish soprano Klara Ek, as Gabriel in Parts One and Two and Eve in Part Three, displayed an extraordinary coloratura technique that allowed her extended aria describing “larks greeting the morning with a happy song, amorous turtle doves billing and cooing, [and the] sweet notes of the nightingale resounding” to resemble bird songs. Her quick, shimmering vibrato continued to contain a vulnerable delicateness, while spacious phrasing and ornaments never seemed old-fashioned. This movement was reinforced by gentle flute solos performed by a new face in the orchestra.

The aria by tenor James Taylor, portraying man’s enlightened “power of intellect” and his wife’s “image of delightful spring” was gorgeous, partially due to Taylor’s ease on stage and fluency with the score. His command of vocal timbre from very reedy to waftily light was equally impressive. Bass-baritone Nathan Berg (Raphael and Adam) had the most tension while singing, although he appeared more comfortable further along in the work. He seemed to enjoy splatting low notes surrounding the text about Earth’s being “pressed down by the weight of beasts” together with the contra-bassoon(s). Haydn was most creative in allowing the text to immediately lead the music in a plethora of affects.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, 'Creation' Revels In Quiet Splendor (Washington Post, May 1)
The vibrato-less orchestra with colorful winds performed well considering the rudderless direction of conductor Helmuth Rilling, who more than once gave cues so vague that the orchestra embarrassingly arpeggiated chords from timpani on up. Tempos often waffled and transitions were a guessing game. Furthermore, Rilling’s stick technique was stiff of wrist and fingers, and although conducting without score, he often seemed buried in his own thoughts. In fairness, Rilling’s leadership of the potent University of Maryland Concert Choir was more adequate – the choir’s youthful energy and visible enthusiasm were contagious.

This concert by the National Symphony Orchestra will be repeated tonight and Saturday evening (May 1 and 2, 8 pm), in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

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