Haydn’s The Seasons in Dresden had an essentially sunlit disposition

GermanyGermany Dresden Music Festival 2024 [11] – Haydn, The Seasons (Die Jahreszeiten): Lina Johnson (soprano, Hanne), Tilman Lichdi (tenor, Lukas), Matthias Winckhler (bass-baritone, Simon), La Capella Nacional de Catalunya, Le Concert des Nations / Jordi Savall (conductor). Kulturpalast Dresden, 30.5.2024. (MC)

[front l-r] Lina Johnson (soprano), Jordi Savall (conductor), Tilman Lichdi (tenor), and Matthias Winckhler (baritone) © Oliver Killig

Jordi Savall is a conductor and viol player that I have tended to associate with the ensemble Hespèrion XX and their extensive work with ancient music. This Kulturpalast concert is typical of Savall’s body of work with Le Concert des Nations a period instrument orchestra he formed in 1989. Le Concert des Nations performs music from the baroque era to the romantic era (1600 to 1900). As director of Le Concert des Nations, Jordi Savall chose to perform Haydn’s secular oratorio The Seasons (Die Jahreszeiten).

With his oratorio The Seasons Haydn was attempting to recapture the great success he had with The Creation three years earlier. Premiered in 1801 at Vienna, The Seasons was one of Haydn’s final large-scale works. Oratorios usually use sacred subjects for text such as from the Old Testament of the Bible however The Seasons has a secular text by Baron Gottfried van Swieten arranged from Scotsman James Thomson’s epic poem ‘The Seasons’ (1730). With Swieten’s text to The Seasons Haydn created a paean to nature that works in the manner of affectionately designed and well differentiated frescoes of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.

At the Kulturpalast Jordi Savall walked carefully across the stage to the podium with the aid of a stick. His conducting of his three soloists, the singers of La Capella Nacional de Catalunya and the players of Le Concert des Nations was a constant delight and the response he obtained was consistently first-rate. The first of Savall’s three well-chosen soloists Tilman Lichdi as Lukas displayed his bright and clear toned tenor with assurance. As Hanne soprano Lina Johnson excelled notably for her delivery of the text and the purity and smoothness of her attractive voice. The third soloist bass-baritone Matthias Winckhler as Simon was in praiseworthy voice especially his favourable projection of the text and pleasing expression.

Some twenty-strong the mixed chorus La Capella Nacional de Catalunya had been impeccably prepared making a strong impression, providing glorious singing that was notably well unified. Using period instruments there was constantly alert and vibrant playing from Le Concert des Nations. There was no shortage of drama when required, together with some notable solo contributions especially the horn and oboe.

In 2009 I attended a performance of The Seasons at the Philharmonie Berlin with Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. It was a most creditable performance indeed, yet I couldn’t entirely connect with the work, as my attention wasn’t held. Here at the Kulturpalast with Jordi Savall and his well-chosen forces The Seasons could not have received a finer performance, it really was top drawer, yet as with the Rattle/Berlin account from 2009, I didn’t entirely engage with the work. There have been many types of semi-staging and fully staged productions of The Seasons. Standing out was Ran Arthur Braun’s spectacular production at the 2017 Birgitta Festival in Tallinn which included video projections, troupes of ballet dancers and acrobats but that type of presentation is going too far for me.

Nevertheless, despite the difficulty I have engaging with The Seasons Jordi Savall conducted a performance that did enchant, through its splendour and its essentially sunlit disposition.

Michael Cookson

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