The Seasons is often overlooked in favour of Haydn’s earlier oratorio, The Creation. This could be due to part to Baron Gottfried van Swieten’s idiosyncratic libretto. Taking the epic pastoral poem The Seasons by Scot James Thomson, van Swieten transposes the action to Germany, tones down the Scottish dourness and adds some hunting and spinning scenes for good measure. But if you forget about the words there’s an abundance of musical riches here, as demonstrated by Maxim Emelyanychev, the SCO’s principal conductor designate stepping in for an indisposed Bernard Labadie.
Usher Hall, Edinburgh ****
With their valveless brass instruments and cracking timpani, the orchestra were in fine fettle as they conjured all manner of moods, weather, animals and even bagpipes with theatrical dynamism. In Spring, we were introduced to the peasant characters sung by soprano Lucy Crowe (Hannah), tenor Andrew Staples (Lucas) and bass baritone Neal Davies (Simon) with the SCO chorus as the country people. Under their director Gregory Batsleer, the chorus have never sounded better.
In Summer, the highlights were the exquisite cavatina from Staples followed by Crowe’s ravishing delivery of a recitative and aria backed by breathy tremolo strings and the oboe’s shepherd’s pipe. Their touching duet together in Autumn was a prelude to a feisty hunting chorus while Davies intoned bleak weather forecasts in Winter.
This high-octane performance was a tour de force, full of character and finely nuanced details, making a convincing argument for this unusual oratorio to get more frequent airings.