Haydn The Seasons/Roger Norrington

0 of 5 stars

Die Jahreszeiten (The Seasons)

Christiane Oelze (soprano)
Scot Weir (tenor)
Peter Lika (bass)

RIAS Chamber Choir

Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Sir Roger Norrington

Recorded September 1991 in Kammermusiksaal der Philharmonie, Berlin

Reviewed by: Graham Rogers

Reviewed: July 2008
PH07076 (2 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 12 minutes



Although a widespread success following its Vienna premiere in 1801, and greatly influential on a generation of budding Romanticists, “The Seasons” has not achieved the lasting universal popularity of Haydn’s previous oratorio “The Creation”; and there are far fewer recordings to choose from.

This release is of a performance in Berlin in 1991, a year after the also-issued recording of “The Creation” with the same artists. This account of “The Seasons” is the more consistently successful of the two, with orchestra and soloists on peak form.

The Overture (heralding ‘Spring’), a late example of Haydn’s gripping Sturm und Drang style, is unpromising in its restrained, pedantic manner; but thereafter the performance picks up, alertly directed with innate Classical style by Roger Norrington. The Chamber Orchestra of Europe plays with great verve and character, winningly combining sensitive modern strings and winds with vibrant ‘period’ trumpets and drums (to judge by the evidence of my ears; the booklet makes no mention of this).

The Seasons provides greater opportunity than “The Creation” for Norrington’s keen sense of fun and flamboyancy: the vivid, often cheeky, programmatic depictions of nature (dismissed by Haydn himself as “Frenchified trash”), such as the buzzing of bees and the chirping of birds, come across with joyful elan. Most impressive is the feverish hunting scene, with frenzied trombone dog-barks and exhilarating horn calls.

The soloists are excellent. Christiane Oelze is as near-perfect as one could wish for, her light yet full-bodied tone ideal for this music. An especial delight is her coquettish love duet with Scot Weir, whose own moment to shine comes in the Schubertian drama of the traveller lost in a winter blizzard. Peter Lika is full of character, giving a lively rendition of the cheerfully whistling farmer who quotes a famous tune from Haydn’s very own ‘Surprise’ Symphony.

The superb RIAS Chamber Choir sings with great verve, clarity, and precision. A jubilant highlight is the arm-swinging drinking-song replete with drunken fugue, sung with intoxicated (though technically impeccable) abandon.

The booklet is shoddy. There are no notes about this particular performance and, although an English translation is included, it is on separate pages to the German and not marked with track numbers, making it very difficult to find specific sections.

Nonetheless, this is a highly recommended release. More exuberant than John Eliot Gardiner’s sometimes-cold studio account on Archiv, and less distractingly sensational than René Jacobs’s Harmonia Mundi version, Norrington leaps to the top of the pile for recordings of “The Seasons”.

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