The Seasons: Bath Choral Society and Bath Philharmonia
Bath Choral Society with Bath Philharmonia – Bath Abbey
Haydn – The Seasons
The Seasons has never achieved the kind of popularity enjoyed by The Creation, perhaps because it came second? And many experienced singers have not had a chance to sing it either. Yet what a thoroughly well-crafted, vocally entertaining work it is - even if Haydn didn't always find Baron von Swieten's libretto entirely to his liking. The story is told by Simon the farmer splendidly sung by bass Alex Ashworth, robust and full bodied: soprano Elizabeth Weisberg as his daughter Jane, her ringing powerful soprano reaching every corner of the Abbey's big space: and tenor John McMunn as her boyfriend Luke, polished and assured at the top of the range. A fine trio of soloists, complemented by the chorus of country boys and girls – dare one say peasants? – who were on excellent form. No-one is better than Haydn at integrating the solos, duets and trios with the choruses and we had an admirably paced transition from the colourful spring opening, saying good-bye to winter, graceful and lively, with a fine bass aria and finishing with a brass fanfare accompanying a robust chorus, heralding the approach of summer.
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A piquant oboe cock crow takes us into a tenor solo, gentle and serene, before a lyrical series of solos and choruses, including a dramatic thunder storm, announcing the approach of autumn with a delightful final lullaby.
Autumn starts with an orchestral opening, celebrating the harvest, with some fine strings and woodwind before an energetic hunting scene, stridently announced by some magnificent brass. It is a real choral extravaganza, sung with great gusto and zest by the choir in full sail. It was a great sound admirably matched by the orchestra, giving perhaps the best balance of the evening between players and singers.
Come winter, come the fog and a little bit of by-play between a randy squire, given his marching orders by a knowing country girl, before the final choral conclusion brings the work to a resplendent close, full of faith and hope.
It was a performance distinguished above all by a quite admirable sense of structure, enhanced by a completely seamless fusion of soloists, choir and orchestra. Each has a distinctive part to play, yet the integration of the three achieved by conductor Will Dawes provided a balance which ensured that the sense of unity was preserved. His feel for tempo, and the need to keep his forces moving inexorably forward, produced a most satisfying integral performance. What a pity there were empty seats! Not only did the absentees miss a too-seldom performed work, but the acoustic is always at its best when the Abbey is full and the temperature just a degree or two higher.
Peter Lloyd Williams