February 2005

Haydn - The Seasons
Harmonia Mundi 801829.30
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD
Released: 2004

by Rad Bennett

Musical Performance *****
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment *****

By the time Haydn wrote his two late oratorios, The Creation and The Seasons, he was an international success. There were so many people wanting to hear the first performance of the latter work that it had to be given two times after its premiere to satisfy everyone. Though Haydn had worked quite successfully with small ensembles during his tenure for Count Esterházy, he was now afforded the luxury of huge performing ensembles. A December performance of The Seasons that followed the premiere employed some 200 musicians.

René Jacobs conducts half that number, but they are virtuoso to the man and woman, each one contributing to the ensemble and many doing not only that, but shining in solo passages as well. The overall character of this reading is joyful and exuberant. Tempos are spirited, phrasing is clean and precise, and the imagery that is so prominent in the libretto is graphically presented. The oboe solo depicting the rooster crowing at dawn’s first light sounds like a rooster. The hunting sequence is boisterous. A musical gunshot is awesome, and the hunting horns thrilling and resonant. In quieter sections, the performance is lyrical, neat, and always alive.

The sound is rich and full. It complements the performance ideally. The front soundstage is wide and has adequate depth; the hunting horns, timpani, and trumpets bring the hall’s reflective properties into play. This is a great performance. It can stand beside the justly famous Karl Böhm DG recording. That one is the best modern-instrument reading, while this is the best one on period instruments. Don’t miss it.