Gustav Kuhn

Haydn: Die Schöpfung [DVD Video]

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Haydn: Die Schöpfung [DVD Video] Review

by James Manheim

Representing an admirable use of the DVD medium to preserve unique performances, this release contains a recording of a performance mounted at Vienna's Alte Universität on March 31, 1982, Haydn's birthday. The hall was the same in which the work had received its premiere, and the performance was a forerunner of those that have attempted to apply the principles of the historical-performance movements to Haydn's big oratorios. That's a tricky enterprise: the size of the forces used here matches those shown in a famous engraving reproduced on the box, but other contemporary descriptions of Haydn oratorio performances refer to much larger groups of singers. That may be for the scholars to debate, but the performance here makes musical sense. Conductor Gustav Kuhn, looking with his big mop of hair as though he just stepped off the set of an American 1970s television sitcom, takes moderately slow tempos and strikes a balance between his 38-member Arnold Schoenberg Choir and the Collegium Aureum orchestra that favors the revelation of pictorial detail in the winds and brasses. With the all-star cast of singers he plays it straight, treating them, in essence, as another kind of pictorial detail. This works surprisingly well; the singers all seem relaxed, and Arleen Augér and Peter Schreier soar in duet passages. The Austrian technicians charged with the task of dealing with an environment not designed for television recording excelled; the clarity of texture Kuhn was striving for is delivered in full, and even if a bit of tonal beauty has to be sacrificed, the dynamic range is impressive -- this DVD will stand up to high-end playback equipment. An excellent choice as a cornerstone of a classical DVD collection, one point of which ought to be to put the listener in a place and time that has something to add to the music.