Joseph Haydn: Die Jahreszeiten (The Seasons)

COMPOSERS: Joseph Haydn
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Haydn
WORKS: Die Jahreszeiten (The Seasons)
PERFORMER: Sibylla Rubens (soprano), Andreas Karasiak (tenor), Stephan MacLeod (bass); Gewandhaus Chamber Choir; Leipzig CO/Morten Schuldt-Jensen
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557600-01
Why Haydn’s final oratorio, The Seasons (1801), has never won the popularity of The Creation is a mystery – its musical quality is comparably high and its picturesque depictions of rural life equally as enchanting as its predecessor’s Genesis-inspired musical imagery. This recording uses a modern-instrument orchestra availing itself of many of the stylistic traits learned from period-instrument practitioners – to good effect, with plenty of character in the distinctive phrasing and articulation. The conductor takes the work at a steady-as-she-goes pace, however, that robs it of some of its essential vitality.

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The soloists are a well-matched team, though Sibylla Rubens’s accurate soprano ideally needs a little more power. But tenor Andreas Karasiak and bass Stephan Macleod both have enough tone, and highly attractive it proves in each case in performances that are agile and articulate. The choir, though, is on too small a scale to give the bigger choral moments the punch they require. While the acoustic of the Leipzig Gewandhaus is resonant, it lacks the ideal clarity and bite for such finely wrought and detailed music.

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No libretto available in the booklet, though Naxos promises one on its website soon. René Jacobs’s recent performance on the Harmonia Mundi label, with excellent soloists and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, will keep its palm in this instance, but if it’s a budget version you are looking for this one will do very nicely. George Hall