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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Die Jahreszeiten (1801)
Gundula Janowitz (soprano)
Werner Hollweg (tenor)
Walter Berry (bass)
Choir of the German Opera Berlin
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan
rec. Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin, November 1972
EMI CLASSICS GEMINI 3714822 [79:16 + 74:00]

EMI’s Gemini resissue series now gets around to von Karajan’s Seasons, a set I last encountered on CMS7 69224-2. The remastering there was successful and there’s been no subsequent need, from the sound of it, to do further restorative work on the 1972 tapes.
The high point of the performance rests in the playing of the Berlin orchestra. The strings play with tremendous control, and balance between them and the winds are acutely judged. Wind and brass contributions are ideally weighted for a performance of this kind and all the principals concerned take articulate and enviably eloquent solos. They also play with tremendous power when needed – the Sunrise scene is resplendent – and also with tactful delicacy. Karajan’s acute ear for balance here pays dividends. What he seemingly had no control over was the chorus. The Berlin Opera chorus is one shaggy monolith with woolly sopranos and a weak attack. The men are better but overall the blend is unconvincing and the execution very disappointing. And in a work of this kind I’m afraid you need an incisive, rhythmically on-its-toes choir.
If the orchestra is superb - and the choir sometimes not - this still leaves the three soloists to consider. Janowitz also recorded the role with Böhm. There’s not a great deal between her two assumptions but my preference is the Böhm. The voice is slightly fresher and Böhm seems to offer her slightly more sympathetic support. Nevertheless you won’t be disappointed by her with Karajan. Walter Berry makes a decent impression but he’s not always overburdened with advanced qualities of vocal characterisation. Hollweg has a nice, tight, bright tenor, though again his is not a truly distinctively sung performance; aspects of it in fact drift toward the generic – or maybe Karajan had imposed his will.
Hollweg’s singing in Sei nun gnadig is certainly nimble and ardent but in the trios he tends to be eclipsed by Janowitz. Try O wie lieblich from Spring where her mobility and control tend to eclipse those of her male partners. Meanwhile Berry tends to the lugubrious in Summer’s Der munt’re Hirt – not a huge amount of liveliness hereabouts. In all respects they cede to Janowitz who manages to elicit a great deal of pathos from the cavatina in Winter; to be blunt she sets expressive standards that neither Berry nor Hollweg can match.
The harpsichord-accompanied recitatives move well and with requisite direction. Overall this is a good, standard big band performance vintage 1972. But in the final analysis it tends to over-scrupulousness in terms of orchestral lines and has uneven soloists and a disappointing chorus.
Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Göran Forsling

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