ALBUM TITLE: Haydn: The Seasons
WORKS: The Seasons
PERFORMER: Dorothea Röschmann (soprano); Michael Schade (tenor); Florian Boesch (bass); Concert Association of the Vienna State Opera; Vienna Philharmonic/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
By and large, this is a lovely performance. Filmed in the Grosses Festspielhaus, Salzburg during the 2013 festival, it features the focused and vital Vienna Opera Chorus and some 50 players from the golden-toned Vienna Philharmonic, with its distinctive woodwind and brass timbres. There is a well-balanced trio of soloists led by the spirited soprano Dorothea Röschmann as Hanne, with the expressive tenor Michael Schrade as Lukas and a particularly impressive assumption of the peasant narrator, Simon, by the firm and even-toned bass Florian Boesch.
That veteran authenticist, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, now in his mid-eighties, sets moderate tempos but is ever vigilant in defining articulation and pointing character – much of his performance philosophy is encapsulated in the discussion and rehearsal sequences of the bonus documentary that is part of the release. Haydn’s bucolic late masterpiece evoking the country year, with its summer storm and winter blasts, its hunting and shooting scenes, spinning chorus and harvest celebrations, emerges in all its moods and weathers with a warmth, humour and affection that is captivating.
The only qualification is what some listeners may feel the over-prominence of the fortepiano continuo, not only in the recitatives but in many of the arias and choruses too. Since it is less audible in the rehearsal clips, this may be due to spotlighting by the recording producer, and, of course, Haydn did direct some of his concerts from the keyboard – though it is unclear how much he played between waving his arms. But in some of the more delicately scored passages, one could wish its strummings were a mite less obtrusive. Bayan Northcott