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Choir ends season at the beginning: Haydn's `The Creation'.

Byline: Fred Crafts The Register-Guard

Conductor Diane Retallack is ending the Eugene Concert Choir's season with a big bang: "The Creation" by Franz Joseph Haydn.

"This is just incredibly glorious music, because every day God created something really terrific, and all of the heavenly hosts had to celebrate that," Retallack says, positively beaming over the prospect of performing Haydn's great oratorio.

"There are the most amazing, joyous, exuberant, fantastic choruses you have ever heard to celebrate each day of creation," she goes on. "I just can't express how much exuberance there is in this piece. You could take any of these big final choruses that end each day and just do them on their own. They are that great."

Indeed, choruses such "And the Spirit of God" and "The Heavens Are Telling" are often included on choral programs. But in this case, Retallack will conduct them all as a way of ringing down the curtain on one of the Eugene Concert Choir's most successful seasons - a season bookended by two masterworks, the other being G.F. Handel's "Messiah."

Haydn used all of 1797 and most of 1798 to compose "The Creation." He took his time, he said, "because I intend it to last a long time." The process affected him deeply. He told his biographer that he was "never so religious" as he was while composing this work, and that he "daily prayed for strength and guidance."

Haydn composed the oratorio after he became a celebrity in London. He was in his mid-60s but far from ready to retire. During the last decade of his life he would compose six more masses plus his two grand oratorios, "The Creation" and "The Seasons."

"The Creation" has come down through the ages as the more impressive of the two works. Although it explores religious subjects, it was always intended for the concert hall.

Haydn turned to writing an oratorio after hearing Handel's oratorios, particularly "Messiah." He is said to have wept during the "Hallelujah" chorus and to have claimed that Handel "is the master of us all."

London impresario Johan Peter Salomon urged Haydn to write an oratorio himself. He even provided him with a libretto, cobbled together from parts of John Milton's "Paradise Lost" and the biblical book of Genesis.

Haydn went back to Vienna in 1795 and had the English libretto translated into German. But the translator was rather clumsy. When the German text was translated back into English for the London performances, it was sometimes unintelligible.

Not until American conductor Robert Shaw and author Alice Parker did an English version in 1957 did the text match Haydn's picturesque music. This is the translation Retallack is using.

"I feel like `The Creation' has to be done in English because it's such a wonderful story. And Haydn is humorous in the way he relates stories," she says, adding that she particularly likes the clever way Haydn explains the creation of weather.

"It goes through the hail, the lightning, the driving rain, the winds and the light and flaky snow. He puts the (instrumental) music first, then he has the text tell us what it was. It's fun."

Haydn tells the creation story through three archangels - Gabriel (sung by the soprano), Muriel (tenor) and Raphael (bass) - who later become Adam, Eve and a narrator.

The vocal soloists are:

Judith Pannill (soprano), who has performed as a guest soloist with New York's Voices of Ascension and with the Musica Sacra at Carnegie Hall. She graduated from the Peabody Conservatory of Music and Curtis Institute of Music.

Robert Breault (tenor), who has performed with the Edmonton Symphony, Jacksonville Symphony, Utah Symphony and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. He is associate professor of voice and director of opera at the University of Utah.

Mark Risinger (bass), who has performed with El Paso Opera, New York City Opera, Fort Worth Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, Connecticut Opera, Longwood Opera, Boston Symphony Orchestra and Boston Baroque.

The soloists sing what Retallack calls "charming recitatives." Then the chorus will come in celebrating what was just sung about. It's a grand finish for our season."

CONCERT PREVIEW

Eugene Concert Choir

What: "The Creation" by Franz Joseph Haydn, conducted by Diane Retallack, with soprano Judith Pannill, tenor Robert Breault and bass Mark Risinger

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Silva Hall, Hult Center, Seventh Avenue and Willamette Street

How much: $12 to $24, at the Hult Center box office (682-5000)

GuardLine: To hear some of the music, call GuardLine at 485-2000 and select category 3733
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Title Annotation:Entertainment
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 4, 2003
Words:753
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