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Haydn: The Seasons / Jacobs

Haydn / Petersen / Jacobs
Release Date: 03/11/2014 
Label:  Harmonia Mundi   Catalog #: 971829   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Franz Joseph Haydn
Performer:  Marlis PetersenWerner GüraDietrich Henschel
Conductor:  René Jacobs
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin RIAS Chamber ChorusFreiburg Baroque Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Let's put aside the by now done-to-death commentary-disguised-as-analysis that focuses on this oratorio's supposedly weak overall musical structure and uncohesive libretto. And let's forget all the reasons we may have disliked this huge late work--you know, the idyllic/poetic imagery, all those fields and ploughs and flowers and maidens frolicking in meadows, the sunrises, the storms. And the animals! Gamboling lambs and thronging fishes, swarming bees and fluttering birds! The hunt, the drinking, the eating, complete with sound effects and lots of orchestral scene-painting. Let's forget that for now and just admit that this is one incredible score containing some of the most exciting, rousing,
Read more affecting, and entertainingly descriptive music you'll ever hear. I didn't used to think this; my former impression was of a thematically quaint, musically overblown monstrosity, thanks to amateur choir/orchestra productions and early, unstylish recordings. But thanks to René Jacobs and his extraordinary singers and players, we have a Seasons that for the first time fully realizes the dramatic extent of the work and, most impressively, the expressive range of the huge orchestral force that Haydn created and for which he so masterfully scored.

It's not all wonderful--some of the arias are too long or just not all that melodically compelling, and occasionally an effect, the sunrise in "Summer", for example, today might seem just a little obvious or too close to parody. But those are minor quibbles that for many listeners are not even worth mentioning in light of the superb choruses and evocative orchestral introductions, such as the "description" of winter's descent over the land that opens the oratorio's last section. Besides the marvelous orchestration (a feature of the whole piece), which aptly and ingeniously sets the mood, the words that follow are some of the work's most vivid and powerful--and Haydn responds to such passages as "Light and life have grown weak, warmth and happiness have vanished..." (a cavatina for soprano) with one of his loveliest melodies.

Jacobs has an ideal sense of pacing (relatively swift and full of well-focused energy) and of how to maximize the amazing range of color at his disposal. Consider the orchestra, which was anything but normal for this place and time: piccolo, double winds, a double-bassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, timpani, triangle, tambourine, strings, and fortepiano continuo. (In some performances during Haydn's time, even this contingent was augmented by doubling or tripling some of the instruments and fielding a choir of 200 or more singers.) But this isn't just big, bombastic bashing and clattering. Haydn's reasons for using these instruments becomes clear as the work progresses, the more obvious moments being where a piccolo or oboe or bassoon emerges to highlight a detail of a scene, or where those famous Haydn hunting horns rip through the atmosphere. But there are many more subtle effects, and others, while more literal in their portrayal--the spinning wheel in "Winter"--are enhanced by a little clever touch, in this case the section ends with the wheel slowing down gradually to a stop. The point is, we can actually hear these things cleanly, clearly, and eloquently, played with passion for the music and respect for its drama--and with a sense of humor in certain places.

The singing is absolutely first rate--but we're not surprised, for this choir is one of the world's finest, and these three soloists are all experienced opera and oratorio singers who are anything but detached in their delivery. Instead, they sing like characters with personalities--we can picture a real Hanne, Lukas, and Simon describing the scenes and stories. And of course, the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra can't be beat, especially when given such a luscious score to dig into. Yes, I could go into detail and describe the blazing horns in the hunt (one of the performance's most dazzling, daring sequences!) or the exciting tumult of the storm or the dreariness of impending winter, or even those frolicking maidens--but Haydn already did that. And you'll hear it all when you put these CDs into your player. Need I mention that the sound is stunning?

– David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com Read less

Works on This Recording

The Seasons, H 21 no 3 by Franz Joseph Haydn
Performer:  Marlis Petersen (Soprano), Werner Güra (Tenor), Dietrich Henschel (Baritone)
Conductor:  René Jacobs
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus,  Freiburg Baroque Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1799-1801; Vienna, Austria 
Language: German 

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