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AAM’s The Seasons on the Barbican was a supreme affirmation of Haydn’s masterpiece – Seen and Heard Worldwide


United Kingdom Haydn, The Seasons, Hob. XXI:3 (sung in English, translation McCreesh): Rachel Nichols (soprano, Hannah), Benjamin Hulett (tenor, Lucas), Jonathan Lemalu (bass, Simon), Nina Dunn Studio (video and projection design), Martin Parr (staging director), Academy of Historic Music Refrain and Orchestra / Laurence Cummings (conductor). Barbican Centre, London, 4.10.2022. (CC)

Rachel Nichols (Hannah), Jonathan Lemalu (Simon) and Benjamin Hulett (Lucas) © Mark Allan

Whereas Haydn’s Creation is ingrained in our musical consciousness, not least through a large number of choral society performances, The Seasons receives a lot much less consideration. Unjustifiably so, as a efficiency from translator of The Seasons, Paul McCreesh, at St John’s, Smith Sq. in 2016 hinted; and as this one underneath Laurence Cummings confirmed; report collectors may nicely cherish Colin Davis’s July 1967 recording (now on Phillips Duo) with Heather Harper, Ryland Davis and John Shirley-Quirk and the BBC Symphony Refrain and Orchestra.

The piece is fantastically proportioned, with the orchestral exposition (fantastically offered right here underneath Cummings) monitoring the transition of Winter into Spring, its drama underlined by the thwacks on timpani; projections (from the Nina Dunn Studio, now recognized apparently as PixelLuxe) completely judged. The video aspect definitely added environment, with its rolling panoramas (they tended to maneuver throughout recitatives), its ‘starry evening’ for Autumn. Matching this was applicable costumes (most clearly within the coats for Haydn’s quite chilly Winter). The piece is Haydn’s hymn to Nature, and it was unimaginable to not really feel immersed on this procession of 4 clearly differentiated seasons.

Fascinating how Summer time is seen as each a blossoming (the fabulous refrain, ‘Hail, O wonderful sin!’), but in addition a season with a destructive facet, of drought and storm. So the part opens in darkness, with an oboe piercing via the gloom, till Hannah (Rachel Nichols) pronounces dawn (‘The rosy daybreak breaks forth ultimately’). Autumn, which concentrates on pastoral actions, culminates in a rousing Ingesting Refrain of nice jubilation right here (‘Drink up, drink up, the wine is right here!’ … ‘Allow us to drink now!’). Winter provides us a wanderer within the snow (Haydn’s Winterreise, then) who finds shelter in a village the place the ladies are spinning therefore a Spinning Refrain) – there’s a clear trajectory from the bleakness of the opening to the ultimate Double Refrain with Solos, ‘The dawns that morn so wonderful’ which elevates us to the Home of God and a imaginative and prescient of the ‘Holy Mount’.

This specific Barbican efficiency is a part of the Academy of Historic Music’s 2022/23 season, entitled ‘Tis Nature’s Voice: additional performances embrace Les Elémens at Milton Court docket on November 10 and, amongst others, culminating in a efficiency of Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ Symphony on the Barbican Corridor in late June 2023.

AAM’s efficiency of The Seasons on the Barbican © Mark Allan

Earlier than we get to the soloists, reward ought to be heaped on the AAM (refrain and orchestra), maybe notably the looking (pure horn) for negotiating their invocations supremely nicely; and in addition for the usage of a fortepiano (Alastair Ross), centrally positioned and dealing with the conductor, in recitatives and elsewhere. This alternative ’positioned’ the music fantastically. The Refrain, too, was impeccably drilled, notably within the post-Handelian fugal passages. Cummings’s understanding of Haydn’s rating is full, his tempos fantastically chosen; it’s a lengthy night (though not fairly the ten.15 pm end time marketed), however Haydn’s music shines brightly, its invention unflagging.

And whereas some (myself included) may need felt dissatisfied in Sophie Bevan’s indisposition as a result of ill-health, Rachel Nicholls, stepped in valiantly at quick discover. Studying Nicholls’s biography, one may very well be forgiven for considering her unsuitable for this work, there’s a lot emphasis on Wagner as she has sung Isolde, Senta and Brünnhilde. She additionally takes in up to date music, as in Nicola LeFanu’s The Crimson Hen; however her earlier music shines. She clearly loves this music, and her voice fits it nicely: what a beautiful melody, for instance, Haydn finds for the Duet with Refrain ‘O what charming sights delight us within the prospect honest’ in Spring. That ‘The rosy daybreak breaks forth ultimately’ in Summer time was merely lovely, assured and lightweight of voice.

The tenor, Benjamin Hulett, was able to the loveliest grazioso (as within the refrain with solos, ‘Heav’n be gracious’; this part additionally demonstrated simply how completely the three soloists blended. He seems the half, too, younger and fervent, and interactions between Lucas and Hannah had been a delight. Value noting that Hulett has a great low vary, Haydn doesn’t keep on with the principles of voice ranges in the case of the tenor!

Jonathan Lemalu, who sang Simon at a 2007 BBC Promenade efficiency underneath Sir Roger Norrington, is clearly immersed on this music, and regardless of the strengths of his co-soloists, it was his star that shone the brightest as this music is so clearly in his blood. All through it was his commanding power of voice that impressed, its magnificence, and his sense of favor.

A supreme affirmation of Haydn’s masterpiece; a most memorable night.

Colin Clarke

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