Perhaps what Twin Cities classical music lovers wanted this weekend was a celebration of spring. What with the Minnesota Orchestra performing Joseph Haydn's quintessential paean to fresh beginnings, "The Creation," it seemed a chance to exult in the coming of birdsong and budding trees, flowers and flowing streams.
Ah, but nature had other ideas. On Friday evening, Orchestra Hall was about only one-third full for a performance of Haydn's magnum opus, presumably because of the multiple inches of heavy, wet snow that started falling about an hour before the concert. Yes, a blizzard was predicted and it's understandable if ticket holders decided that one more storm was just one too many to face this winter.
Hopefully, they traded their tickets for Saturday's final offering of "The Creation," because Friday's was the most enjoyable Minnesota Orchestra concert this season. Led by English conductor Paul McCreesh (who also translated the oratorio's text), it was as big and bold an interpretation as one could wish for a work that's basically about the beginning of everything. With three excellent vocal soloists and the Minnesota Chorale's singers throwing themselves wholeheartedly into the work's celebratory spirit, it was an evening overflowing with exhilaration.
It seemed appropriate that nature should crash this party, for it is indeed the guest of honor in Haydn's oratorio. Splicing the creation story from the biblical book of Genesis with embellishments on the tale from John Milton's "Paradise Lost," the text is something of a summoning to mindfulness, a suggestion to observe what's around us — the land, the water, the birds, the stars, even the worms and bugs — and pause to offer gratitude.
No, more than that: To delight in it. And this interpretation of "The Creation" was all about delight. It was there in how the Minnesota Orchestra musicians imitated the sounds of our natural environs or tapped into the score's ebullient joy. And in the ideal combination of technical skill and obvious affection for the material displayed by the three solo singers.
Add to this the Minnesota Chorale energetically embracing the role that Haydn wrote for the choir in this work: placing a full-voiced exclamation point on each chapter of the Judeo-Christian creation story.
The vocal soloists' shining moments were plentiful. Soprano Joélle Harvey displayed a voice of strength and subtlety, at its most arresting when singing the praises of birds and acting as Eve, even when she had to deliver some eye-rolling text about the rewards of obedience.
Her Adam was Kevin Deas, a bass-baritone with awe-inspiring power in his low range. Whether evoking the tumult of the sea and calling forth its creatures or taking his voice to subterranean depths to sing of worms, Deas was an ideal conduit for Haydn's spirit of celebration. And tenor Robert Murray was passionate and precise throughout.
Overseeing it all with insight, energy and charisma was McCreesh, whose Twin Cities visits more often come in the company of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. He was last here to lead that orchestra's quite well-executed December presentations of Handel's "Messiah." While that work partially inspired Haydn to write "The Creation," his is a far happier piece — the kind that could leave you exiting into a slushy snowstorm smiling.
With: Conductor Paul McCreesh, soprano Joélle Harvey, tenor Robert Murray, bass-baritone Kevin Deas and the Minnesota Chorale
What: Joseph Haydn's "The Creation"
When: 8 p.m. Sat.
Where: Orchestra Hall, 1111 Nicollet Mall, Mpls.
Tickets: $30-$99, available at 612-371-5656 or minnesotaorchestra.org
Rob Hubbard is a Twin Cities classical music writer. Reach him at email@example.com.