HAYDN The Seasons – Jacobs
It would be hard to imagine a more joyful account of Haydn’s culminating masterpiece. René Jacobs and his outstanding team perfectly capture the exuberance with which the composer seemed to be defying the years. Infectious rhythms bring out the fun of The Seasons from the start, and when in Simon’s first aria Haydn quotes from the slow movement of the Surprise Symphony, Jacobs nudges the music persuasively. And in the final chorus of ‘Summer’, the lowing cattle and quail’s cry, and chirping crickets and croaking frogs, sound witty, not naive.
In all this Jacobs is helped by a clear and immediate recording. If John Eliot Gardiner’s 1992 recording shares many of Jacobs’s qualities, his recording has less presence. The new release highlights the bold writing for brass and timpani in the choruses; the timbre of the Freiburgers’ valveless horns is very distinctive, notably in the drinking chorus at the end of ‘Autumn’, where Haydn introduces triangle and tambourine for good measure. The storm chorus in ‘Summer’ rivals Beethoven’s storm in the Pastoral, and the crescendo as the sun rises is thrilling.
The RIAS Chamber Choir is a fair match for Gardiner’s Monteverdi Choir, and the soloists are first-rate, fresh and youthful-sounding. Marlis Petersen’s bright, clear soprano is ideally flexible to cope with the coloratura passages in Hanne’s aria, ‘Welche Labung’, in ‘Summer’, while Werner Güra’s light tenor is well-suited to the role of Lukas; Dietrich Henschel brings a Lieder singer’s feeling for detail to Simon.
A final choice is a matter of taste – in its way Gardiner’s is just as recommendable – but this new account’s greater sense of relaxation and feeling for the fun in the writing make its claims second to none.