The use of period instruments in performances of Haydn's music is becoming more common but is still rarer than in the music of the Baroque. Ensemble size is a particularly troublesome question. By the time Haydn's oratorio The Creation was completed in 1798, a greatly enlarged orchestra was an option in the right conditions; the Vienna premiere of The Seasons three years later featured hundreds of musicians. This recording of The Creation (in German) by the Capella Augustina and VokalEnsemble Köln under Andreas Spering uses period instruments but has a string section consisting of 12 violins, four violas, three cellos, and two double basses.
The merit of this approach is that it lets the listener hear all kinds of detail that Haydn wrote into the wind and brass parts of this very pictorial work. Listen to the opening "Representation of Chaos" or any of the other instrumental passages in the oratorio here, and you'll find a balance between strings and winds that adds a lot to the score. The VokalEnsemble Köln is either large or miked close up, however, and in the big choral passages one hears mostly chorus, brass, and percussion. This imbalance is a bit jarring although the singing of the chorus itself is spot-on. There's a certain lack of grace in the interpretations of both Spering and soprano Sunhae Im; they miss the folklike rhythms and the pastoral quality that lie at the root of the musical language of Haydn's old age although the ensemble delivers glittering readings of the contrapuntal and fugal passages in which Haydn is in full Handelian mode. Those interested in the application of historical-performance-practice ideas to Haydn will want to check out the unusual sound of this recording, but these forces might be better suited to the more official language of the late Haydn masses.
An action summary is included, but there are no texts. Users are directed to a website (the address is hard to find!), which would be an acceptable solution if the website contained the usual side-by-side arrangement of original text with translations. Instead, however, the page contains only separate links to the original and to an English translation -- and you have to click on four different links for each one. To top it off, the pages aren't convertible to a printer-friendly format. For Naxos, which prides itself on its technological sophistication, this is ridiculous. Be sure to have extra printer cartridges (and scissors) on hand if you don't know the work well -- or better still, buy a different Creation. An available SACD version of this release may well be worth investigating; audiophile recordings of this repertory are fairly scarce.