When Haydn’s Die Schöpfung (“The Creation”) had its public première in 1799, the forces were nothing less than gigantic; the orchestra numbered 120 people and the choir 60, considerable forces even today. The forces in use on Thursday’s performance were perhaps not of the same size, an orchestra of about 70, and a choir of 26. Still, the Norwegian Soloists Choir and Norwegian Radio Orchestra, conducted by Grete Pedersen, most definitely made themselves heard.

Det Norske Solistkor
Det Norske Solistkor

Because if I were to describe Thursday’s Creation in Bodø Cathedral with one word, it would have to be “loud”. To be fair, Haydn’s Creation is one of those pieces that actually can survive having its defining characteristic be its sheer volume. Unfortunately, there need to be a good few softer moments as well, moments that Thursday’s concert rather lacked. It started out well enough, with a most excellent and dramatic “Representation of Chaos” in the orchestra, and a haunting opening recitative, even though it seemed a bit rushed. The opening chorus was also riveting in its hushed excitement, and had a great impact, although the climactic utterance of “Und es ward Licht!” was somewhat spoiled by a crescendo leading into the gloriously loud “Licht!”

Most importantly, the lack of restrain volume-wise, mainly stemming from the orchestra, meant that important musical lines were blurred – something that was especially noticeable in the many fugues. The voices of the choir became nothing but a big cloud of noise, and the different parts were almost impossible to discern. The amount of sound from the orchestra also meant that the only time the choir was completely audible was in the big homophonic sections.

Even though The Creation takes well to a high volume, there were quite a few times where loudness could, and should, have been sacrificed for more clarity and transparency. Still, there were some rather glorious sounds coming from the orchestra, especially the horns – although they probably got carried away and then some, being generally the loudest section. The orchestra’s big sound was really entirely fitting, and it was really rather well-balanced; I just wish they would have scaled it back occasionally.

The choir might have had some problems with being heard through the orchestra, but luckily the soloists had no such problems. Generally, they were very much audible, even though there were problems hearing anything but sound (but oh, what sounds!) in the numbers with all three soloists, the choir and the orchestra. Especially good were the bass and soprano soloists, Halvor Fostervoll Melien and Berit Norbakken Solset, with beautiful tone, good diction and intonation, and thoughtful phrasing. Melien was especially impressive, with exemplary attention to the text, especially in the recitatives, and showed himself as a remarkably intelligent singer. Mathias Gillebo, the tenor soloist, was rather more problematic, sounding strained and with weak intonation. His singing was also rather lacking in dynamic variety, with loud and louder being its defining characteristics, in stark contrast to the sensitive singing of Solset and Melien.

Even though Thursday’s Creation was far too loud far too often, it was still an exciting performance, the orchestra, choir and soloists creating almost a wall of sound, a sound that very well might have knocked me off my feet had I not been sitting down. Still, I would have preferred a few more moments of transparency, to allow the piece to show itself from more sides, not only the loud one.