Haydn: The Seasons

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: Ars Production
WORKS: The Seasons
PERFORMER: Sibylla Rubens (soprano), Jan Kobow (tenor), Hanno Müller-Brachmann (baritone); Tölzer Knabenchor & Cappella Coloniensis/Bruno Weil
CATALOGUE NO: ARS 38 081 (hyrbid CD/SACD)

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Haydn’s late, great oratorio has done well on disc recently. And at least one element of this new release, recorded live in Essen in March 2010, is exceptional: the playing of the period-instrument ensemble Cappella Coloniensis. Haydn is not regularly listed among the great orchestrators, but listen to the vivid playing of the innumerable characterful touches in this depiction of rural life and the natural world here and you might have to revise that view.

Such famous scenes as the storm, the hunt and the rollicking harvesters are wonderfully realised and stunningly conveyed in the multi-dimensional sound, which has a wide sense of perspective.

Good, but less remarkable, is the choral singing. It partly depends on how you feel about the use of boy sopranos and altos here as opposed to adults; but while there’s energy in the singing there are also moments of rhythmic imprecision and dodgy pitching. Bruno Weil’s conducting is generally effective, though in places its broad sense of motion is compromised by stolidity.

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It’s the solo trio, however, that fails to rise to the level of the best available in this piece. Controlled, and alternately gentle or spirited as required, soprano Sibylla Rubens nevertheless lacks charm. Hanno Müller-Brachmann’s steady and solid bass-baritone is reliable but occasionally effortful, while Jan Kobow’s tenor is competent but a touch dull. They cannot match, for instance, the group brought together by René Jacobs in his Freiburg Baroque Orchestra recording – soprano Marlis Petersen, tenor Werner Güra and bass-baritone Dietrich Henschel – nor the overall vitality of his approach. George Hall