Joseph Haydn lived too long and too well, for which his reputation has suffered. He can't compete as a romantic hero with Mozart, whose tragic early death amounted to apotheosis, or Beethoven, the Promethean rebel, also tragic because of his deafness. So Papa Haydn has been taken for a mere fashionable servant of patronage, however skillful, and his music performed accordingly. Not by everyone, of course! but by many casual lovers of classical music. Programmers on classical music radio and even impresarios of symphonies have contributed to this image of a gemuetlich but mundane composer.
I own one much older performance of The Seasons, conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham, which I bought in the mid '60s on LPs and which I've never listened to beyond the first platter. Honestly, it seemed gemuetlich but mundane. But now, here's John Eliot Gardiner, our greatest active interpreter of classic-romantic era music, to rescue Die Jahreszeiten from my neglect. This is not a recent recording by the way - 1992 - but such was my aversion to the cumbersome interpretations I'd heard before that I just got around to hearing Gardiner's by riding the crest of his superb Beethoven performances.
Haydn was a far more interesting composer of instrumental music than of vocal. He was a master of orchestration, and that's where Gardiner's English Baroque Soloists excel, in orchestral fireworks. The Monteverdi Choir is perhaps a trifle too large to be recorded as faithfully as I might wish, but the three soloists - soprano Barbara Bonney, tenor Anthony Rolfe Johnson, and Bass Andreas Schmidt - are "right there in your living room." Johnson has a lovely tenor timbre, but his German pronunciation is mushy, if that matters to you. Still, it's the orchestral music that sings to me, in the overtures and in the complex, expressive accompaniments of the arias. Without the orchestra, Haydn's vocal lines would sound 'kinda folksy.' I can't help imagining the tenor and bass with Alpenstocks in their hands, and poor Barbara looking a lot like the St. Pauli Girl. But then, perhaps that's what Haydn intended, since this oratorio is close to the finale of the long tradition of Pastoral music.
If your shelf space is limited, I have to tell you that the two other oratorios of Haydn's final surge of creativity, The Creation and The Seven Last Words, are probably deeper and more moving than The Seaons. But if you are a committed Haydn-lover, you'll definitely relish this performance of Die Jahreszeiten, easily the best available.
[Added the next day: I've listened to the whole set again, and I have a few things to add. First, don't let the tenor's mushy German dissuade you from listening; the bass, Andreas Schmidt, whose role is much more prominent, has crystal clear German enunciation and sings like Wotan incarnate. The autumn and winter sections, on the second disk, are far more colorful and original than spring and summer. None of these seasons are very pictorial; Joey must have been a stay-inside boy.]
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Aug 14, 2010
Aug 31, 2010 06:58 PM UTC
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