Notes and Editorial Reviews
I?ve always been glad I don?t normally review Beethoven?s Fifth Symphony: what more is there to say about it? Well, Haydn?s two late oratorios seem to be appearing on disc as often as the ubiquitous op. 67 these days, even though their catalog totals have a long way to go to catch up. Furthermore, performances on disc seem to be getting better and better. Which is the good news/bad news about this Haydn raid on Mozart?s home turf. The Salzburg performance is a fine one, so good that it might have been a top recommendation two decades ago, but several superior ones have appeared in the meantime, notably that led by René Jacobs on Harmonia Mundi (
The quality of this performance, or of its performers, is never in doubt. The Mozarteum Orchestra?once a chamber group but now a full-strength symphony orchestra?plays with a reduced string complement that still leaves it larger than the period-instrument ensembles that tackle this grand work. The playing is accurate, strong, and in tune. It features a glorious solo oboe, as sweet and colorful as one could wish, that provides the perfect foil for Hanne?s aria ?Welche Labung für die Sinne!? (CD 1, track 17). The three soloists are excellent, applying tasteful and well-executed ornamentations, but no one of them leaves a memorable impression. The large chorus makes a potent contribution, but its words are not always intelligible; some of that is due to the otherwise excellent recorded sound, in which the chorus sometimes recedes into the background.
For better or for worse, this performance is consistently serious. There is little joy, few high spirits. Tempos too are consistent, generally slower than today?s norm. I am surprised to find that the total timing exceeds the Jacobs recording by a mere two minutes. As is often the case, overall timings do not tell the whole story?one slightly slower Adagio can counterbalance a raft of quicker Prestos. The impression remains that this performance is staid when compared to Jacobs. Even ?Autumn??s final chorus, as fast and as bracing as it is here, has a weighty feeling. Only when the people celebrate resurrection after death at the end of ?Winter? does a mighty shout of joy burst forth. Appropriate as this may be from a religious standpoint, it is too late in the day to make the most of Haydn?s oratorio.
The side-by-side German/English libretto is not keyed to the performance: you will have to write in disc and track numbers yourself, which is easy to do, as the double jewel case?s back paper contains a complete track listing?tied to the score?s section numbers?as well as the opening words of each aria, ensemble, and chorus. It is ironic that the Achilles heel of the Jacobs performance is a honky oboe, which is this recording?s finest moment.
FANFARE: James H. North
Works on This Recording
The Seasons, H 21 no 3 by Franz Joseph Haydn
David Wilson-Johnson (),
Miah Persson (),
John Mark Ainsley ()
Written: 1799-1801; Vienna, Austria
Venue: Großer Saal, Mozarteum Salzburg
Length: 95 Minutes 11 Secs.
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