Reviews of recordings in this set:
Although The Creation is no stranger to period-instrument performance, two in particular spring to mind as particularly outstanding. The first of these is Christopher Hogwood's on L'Oiseau-Lyre, which is in English and remains the only version to assemble the huge forces for which Haydn actually wrote, with singularly thrilling results. Second, there is Hengelbrock on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, who demonstrated that at least on recordings the music can sound just as big and colorful, but without extensive doubling of instrumental parts. In his version of The Seasons, René Jacobs accomplished a similar feat, and so does this newcomer, even outdoing Hengelbrock in wringing every last drop of color from Haydn's perennially fresh orchestration. All of the other period performances, including Brüggen, Weil, Harnoncourt (twice), Kuijken, and Gardiner, stand at some remove from these three.
Andreas Spering has a lot going for him right from the beginning: crack vocal and instrumental forces, a strong lineup of soloists, and an excellent German radio production that sounds fabulous...This account of Chaos must stand as the most creepy and desolate on disc, the music still truly revolutionary and modern even at this late date. Spering takes time to make every detail tell: the sudden brass interjections, the startling clarinet run leading to the recapitulation, the muted strings and soloistic writing for timpani. Spering rightly treats the piece Romantically, allowing plenty of opportunities for rhetorical emphasis, as at the thrilling eruption of light and the ensuing recitative, taken a bit slower and more grandly than usual. But there's nothing mannered or unduly exaggerated: everything is dictated by the sense of the text. The chorus obviously relishes the words and sings as though they really mean something.
There are too many outstanding details to list completely. The concluding choruses of all three parts combine blazing brass with exceptional contrapuntal clarity. Sunhae Im and Hanno Müller-Brachmann make a charming Adam and Eve. The latter hasn't the steadiest of baritone voices, particularly in his lower register (as I noted in his recent recording of Bach's B minor Mass for Naxos), but he does surprisingly well in Raphael's big Part 2 aria "Nun scheint in vollem Glanze der Himmel", and tenor Jan Kobow turns in an excellent "In Native Worth" (as it's known in English). Spering somehow manages to play the living daylights out of the great duet with chorus at the center of Part 3, which Tovey called the greatest single movement that Haydn ever wrote, without making an anti-climax out of the following Adam and Eve duet and the big closing ensemble, with its dazzling coloratura "Amens". In short, from just about every possible standpoint, this is as fine a performance of this work as I hope to hear, one that at every turn reveals the miraculously undying youthfulness of Haydn's inspiration. Now on to the The Seasons, please!
-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
Il ritorno di Tobia (The Return of Tobias)
A welcome addition … worthy to set alongside the other great achievements of Haydn’s middle period.
This is a real find and a welcome addition to the Naxos catalogue. Haydn is justifiably famous for his oratorios The Seasons and The Creation. The latter has been recorded by these artists for Naxos to great acclaim. Now Andreas Spering and his Capella Augustina have unearthed Haydn’s first, all but forgotten oratorio, The Return of Tobias. The apocryphal subject of Tobias and the angel was extraordinarily popular in Haydn’s Vienna when he was composing this work, and he chose to home in on the section of the story when Tobias (Tobia) returns from his long absence from home and, with the help of his friend Asaria, aka the Archangel Raphael in disguise, cures his father’s blindness. Haydn takes this as an opportunity to create an oratorio which, while not as pacy or fast-moving as The Seasons and The Creation, contains much of beauty, and some very virtuosic singing for both chorus and soloists. Popular as the Tobias legend was in 1775, however, it quickly fell out of favour. It was furthermore felt that Haydn’s oratorio was too long (nearly 3 hours) and difficult to be easily revived so it fell out of favour and has barely been heard since. Length is less of an issue when you listen at home and, thankfully, the artists involved here make this difficult score seem all but effortless.
The first accolades have to go to the young soloists. We might hope that Nikolay Borchev would have sounded a little more weighty as Tobit, the blind father, but he brings pathos and sympathy to what could have seemed a dry character. His opening aria, Ah tu m’ascolta, oh Dio appropriately invokes sympathy for a man who seems to have lost all sympathisers on earth. Similarly Anders J. Dahlin is perhaps less forthcoming than we would expect from the hero of the story, but he brings a wonderfully mellifluous tone to the character of Tobias himself, from his first aria upon his return to his parental home, until the final miracle when his father is healed. The outstanding contributions, however, come from the three women soloists. Anna, Tobias’ aged mother, is characterfully sung by Ann Hallenberg. Her rich, fruity mezzo is perfect for the tone of despair the character needs at the opening, and she lightens her tone admirably when the mood of the piece turns more joyful in Part 2. Listen to her exciting opening aria (CD1, Track 4) and you will see how Haydn can create instant interest in the character, as well as how seemingly easily Hallenberg copes with it. Her nightmare aria is Part 2 is thrilling. Sophie Karthäuser tailors her tone to handle Tobias’ virtuous and dutiful wife, Sara. Most admirable of all, however, is Roberta Invernizzi, singing the role of Raphael. The angel is given appropriately difficult, often stratospheric music and Invernizzi sings it with flawless coloratura and effortless command of the technique.
The chorus seems totally convinced by this work and they throw themselves into their parts as if they were singing opera, which it often feels like they are. Two moments to watch out for: their fugal chorus that ends Part One is particularly exciting, and their stormy Part 2 chorus, Svanisce in un momento was resurrected by Haydn as his concert motet Insanae et vanae curae. The Capella Augustina, a period ensemble founded by Andreas Spering himself, plays this music as if it were written for it, and the chamber textures that Haydn is fond of using sound perfectly judged. Listen to Sarah’s Part 2 aria, Non parmi esser fra gl’uomini for a good example of how well orchestra and soloists blend. Spering holds the whole thing together with assured control, but also a sense of spontaneity, as if the music is unfolding in precisely the correct manner. This CD is a welcome addition to the catalogue, and something worthy to set alongside the other great achievements of Haydn’s middle period. Three cheers to Naxos for choosing to give it such a distinguished outing on CD. The booklet contains commentary, synopsis and Italian texts, but no translations.
-- Simon Thompson, MusicWeb International