WORKS: The Seasons
PERFORMER: Miah Persson (soprano), Jeremy Ovenden (tenor), Andrew Foster-Williams (bass); London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Sir Colin Davis
CATALOGUE NO: LSO 0708 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Undeservedly underrated in comparison to its predecessor The Creation, Haydn’s final oratorio (1801) is nevertheless a masterpiece. It shows his powers of invention at their height in a work celebrating the rural way of life over the course of the natural year and its parallels with human existence.
Recorded at the Barbican in June 2010, Sir Colin Davis’s live account is founded on purposive modern-instrument playing and the conductor’s own irrepressible dynamism; in his early eighties, he continues to show a sharp-eared appreciation of the characteristic detail of Haydn’s writing, ranging easily from the storm and stress of winter to the intimate, fresh-faced lyricism of spring. Familiar highlights such as the hunt (in which the LSO horns are absolutely marvellous) and the depiction of the drunken harvest revellers are memorably delivered.
There is a fine trio of soloists, too, both individually and as a well-matched ensemble. Miah Persson’s pristine soprano sets off Jeremy Ovenden’s eager, eloquent tenor and Andrew Foster-Williams’s vivid bass – the latter in particular a model of vocal security and textual definition.
The choral singing is less satisfactory: while attractively relaxed in manner, it suffers from some fuzzy tuning higher up and an overall weakness of tone that occasionally lacks focus. Otherwise, the performance displays clarity and precision: the sound articulates the complex textures neatly, allowing Haydn’s remarkable scoring and highly effective vocal writing to register to delightful effect. George Hall