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Haydn: The Seasons, 1801
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The Gabrieli Consort continue their series of award-winning collaborations with the National Forum of Music, Wroc aw, Poland with a new version of Haydn's great oratorio The Seasons. Using a new performing edition by Paul McCreesh this recording is the first to feature the large orchestral forces that Haydn called for, including a string section of 60, 8 horns and a choir of 70. As well as the combined forces of the Gabrieli Consort & Players, Wroc aw Baroque Orchestra and National Forum of Music Choir, the recording features solo performances from British singers Carolyn Sampson, Jeremy Ovenden and Andrew Foster Williams. All booklet texts are printed in both English and Polish translations.
McCreesh's interpretation is delivered on the kind of scale Haydn himself is known to have presented the work in Vienna, with substantial choral and orchestral forces captured in sound that is both expansive and immediate.
The soloists are expertly chosen...while McCreesh's conducting is responsive to every subtle shade within Haydn's grand spiritual vision... --George Hall
Top customer reviews
Paul McCreesh provides a fitting follow-up to his fabulous Creation recording for Archiv. In both installments, the listener notices right away that McCreesh is recording these in English. It is true that Haydn intended both oratorios to be performable in both German and English, however, his translator's command of the English language was clearly wanting. (A modern audience might even liken the first edition's clumsy attempt at English to some German-English internet translator.) It is for this reason recordings or performances especially of The Seasons are hard to come by.
McCreesh has provided extensive reworking of the English translation here (The Season requires much more than The Creation), and finally, it makes sense! In this recording, the language flows naturally, and the grammar and syntax sounds appropriate to what one might have heard in turn-of-the-19th-century Europe.
This recording also continues McCreesh's expertise in performing choral works simulating their original forces: from one-voice-per-part Bach, to a hundred-strong chorus for Mendelssohn's British version of Elijah. Here, he reconstructs Haydn's huge period instrument orchestra with 80-ish strings, doubled trumpets, drums, reinforced winds, and gigantic chorus. Though the forces are quite massive here, each word from the chorus is clear and audible (one of the criticisms of his Creation and Elijah recordings was that the size of the chorus sometimes caused words to be hardly discernible).
The cast here includes three favorites: Carolyn Sampson, Jeremy Ovenden, and Andrew Foster-Williams. None of them disappoint. The listener will be impressed by their storytelling skill, which is so germane to the oratorio genre. Take, for example, Foster-Williams' rendition of "Se lo on yonder open field", where he narrates the story of a hunter, his musket, his hound, and their day's kill. The aria is exciting, animated, and builds to the climactic timpani "gunshot" masterfully.
Haydn's Handelian influence in the oratorio genre is evident in both The Creation and The Seasons, particularly in the choruses. Despite the large forces, the chorus and orchestra execute their numerous fugues with clarity and precision. Nonetheless, The Seasons is a decidedly more extroverted work than The Creation, replete with hunting and drinking songs of.a communal nature. Here, McCreesh ranks alongside Rene Jacobs and the late Nikolaus Harnoncourt in the sheer unbridled joy in these "Autumn" choruses.
As for recorded sound, one gets the sense that concessions needed to be made due to the large forces. Some numbers may seem distant and therefore lacking in "punch". Simply put, the sound balance is far better in the recordings by Herreweghe, Jacobs, and Harnoncourt. However, this is a stellar recording and one of the only English recordings I am aware of, and it is a treat to hear the oratorio using Haydn's large forces. Be sure to turn your speakers up for this one.
Highly recommended, but be sure to check out Rene Jacobs' recording if you're looking for a real desert-island Seasons.
Soloists are first-class; the large, combined Polish-and-British, choral and orchestral forces all do an outstanding job; and McCreesh’s overall vision of the work is uplifting.