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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
The Seasons (Die Jahreszeiten) Hob XXI; 3 (1799-1801) Sung in English
Elsie Morison (soprano) – Nancy
Alexander Young (tenor) – Lucas
Michael Langdon (bass) – Simon
Beecham Choral Society
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham
Recorded between November 1956 and April 1958
SOMM-BEECHAM 16-2 [2 CDs: 143.40]

Beecham’s recording of The Seasons has not received as much critical attention as have his recordings of the Symphonies. This is the first ever CD reissue of this 1956-58 set (essentially 1956 but with patching sessions in March 1957 and April 1958) which makes this Somm double that much more of an attractive prospect. There are a number of Beechamesque idiosyncrasies; a 43 bar cut in the orchestral introduction and added bells and cymbals and percussive effects generally in Summer are noticeable as are the added huntsman’s shots in Autumn. But the most obvious feature is Beecham’s orchestration of the keyboard accompanied secco recitatives. He applied an analogous approach in his recording of Schumann’s Manfred when he orchestrated Schumann’s piano music to fit into the fabric of the score.

As can be heard from the live Berlioz that has emanated from around this time Beecham could still marshal large forces with verve and panache – and driving power into the bargain. Haydn was a favoured composer and though he seems only to have given one complete concert performance of The Seasons (Edinburgh, 1950) he did conduct isolated movements of the years; The Creation was invariably played more often. Beecham is on affectionate and sympathetic form throughout, relishes the twinkle-tinkle little star tune in Simon’s Air Now fairly runs the farmer’s boy (this is an English language performance), and moulds the Trio and Chorus in Spring Be now gracious with notable acumen. The orchestra is commendably rustic when required, the trombones flaring marvellously in the final Chorus and Trio of Spring, the hunting horns decisive and animated in Summer (No 12), flutes piping in the same movement’s Recitative for Lucas The midday sun. We have a real sense of anticipation and dynamism in Lucas’ You beauties of the Town (No. 27 – Autumn), a splendid drone effect in the Chorus Cheer Now! And plenty of lyric phrasing in Here stands the wand’rer now (No. 16 – Winter).

The Chorus is sometimes rather sluggish (listen to the men in their very first outing Come, gentle Spring when Spring takes quite some time coming) but otherwise sing stoutly and even nobly. Of the three soloists Elsie Morison takes the highest honours. Alexander Young was an estimable singer of course and his Handel memorable but he’s not always quite steady (as in the recitative in Winter At his approach). Michael Langdon’s voice tends to spread, an effect noticeable very early on in Spring’s recitative From Aries rolls at last.

Somm have clearly taken care with the transfers; at high level some of the original residual hum is audible but it won’t interfere in your listening pleasure. And there is always satisfaction to be taken in Beecham’s Haydn.

Jonathan Woolf



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