- Die Jahreszeiten (The Seasons), oratorio, H. 21/3
Partisans of the one-voice-per-part approach don't like to talk about it, but many early performances of Haydn's oratorios, and of the Handel performances in England that inspired him, included hundreds of musicians. They could be performed by smaller groups, but clearly when Haydn wanted all cylinders firing, this is what he had in mind. Historical performances that observe this precedent for "The Creation" exist, but this seems to be the first such performance of Haydn's second oratorio, "The Seasons." Conductor Paul McCreesh, leading a massed group encompassing the Poland's National Forum of Music Choir, the Wroclaw Baroque Orchestra, and the Gabrieli Consort & Players, makes other tweaks as well. He has re-edited the text: billed as a new translation, it's actually a smoothing-out of Baron Gottfried van Swieten's English rendering of his own German translation of James Thomson's English original. This is justified: Haydn wanted the work to be heard in both languages, and van Swieten's English version is awkward (his English was poor). Further, McCreesh cuts the accompaniment for the solo numbers down to a small group, with a fortepiano continuo in the recitatives. There's no sign of this in the score, but in a work that's already fluid in size, it's a defensible choice, and the musical results are convincing. The biggest kick of this performance lies not in the details, but in the way the historical instruments combine with the large forces to produce a truly mighty sound. Sample the hunt chorus with its blazing historical trombones and a choir (singing pretty clear English) that's being made to stand up to them. Throughout, the performance strips away a layer of what we think of as classical restraint and gives the work tremendous impact. This goes too for the soloists, who, soprano Carolyn Sampson above all, are ideal for the work. The engineering work, in the new Wroclaw National Forum of Music hall, is first-rate. Highly recommended, even revelatory Haydn.