Paul McCreesh has recorded the last of Haydn’s great oratorios -The Seasons

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LABELS: Signum
WORKS: The Seasons
PERFORMER: Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Jeremy Ovenden (tenor), Andrew Foster-Williams (bass); National Forum of Music Choir; Wroc√aw Philharmonic Choir; Wroc√aw Baroque Orchestra; Gabrieli Consort & Players/Paul McCreesh


Following his success with The Creation, Paul McCreesh has now recorded the last of Haydn’s great oratorios –The Seasons. And the performance matches the high standards of McCreesh’s previous grand choral projects. This 1801 oratorio is a wide-ranging celebration of rural life and the natural year, characteristically colourful and ingenious in its picturesque detail as well as in its overview of each individual season, and draws from Haydn assured and enlivening tone-painting that achieves a genuine panoramic glow. 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.

Curiously, The Seasons has never quite achieved the popularity of its predecessor, despite the fact that Haydn’s inventive powers and vast expertise are demonstrably
on a similarly high level.

Partly inspired by Handel’s oratorios, and designed to appeal to English audiences, The Seasons was conceived to be sung either in German or English. The work’s source was a long admired poem by the Scottish James Thomson, who published the four parts in 1730. A German translation was published in 1745, and it was this that Haydn’s friend, the distinguished diplomat, librarian and amateur musician Baron van Swieten used as a basis for his own libretto.

Haydn set the result in German, which Swieten then back-translated into English to fit the existing notes as best he could; the result has nevertheless attracted regular criticism for its awkwardness. Here Paul McCreesh’s creative input has included provision of a new English text, which works extremely well.

McCreesh revels in Haydn’s masterly skills in writing for orchestra, choir and soloists borne of decades of experience and sheer hard work – as well, of course, as innate genius. The choir’s tone is full-bodied yet never heavy, offering firm attack and with the sopranos unfazed by the high notes. And the distinctive characters of the period instruments meet every requirement as the seasons change and the orchestral colours with them: the uproarious horns (ten of them!) for the drinking song are positively riotous.

The soloists are expertly chosen. Carolyn Sampson brings a gentle luminosity to the soprano part. Tenor Jeremy Ovenden projects the text with authority and mellifluous tone. Bass-baritone Andrew Foster-Williams’s emphatic delivery also highlights the meaning of the words, while McCreesh’s conducting is responsive to every subtle shade within Haydn’s grand spiritual vision, to which Mark Berry’s booklet notes provide an ideal introduction.


George Hall