Haydn's The Seasons is a two-hour vocal work that praises God and nature and orchestrally imitates croaking frogs and lambs that gambol. It could easily seem slightly out of kilter with the times in which we live, but its proto-ecological message has perhaps never been more relevant, its sublimely fresh and vernal musical language a painful reminder of lost environmental innocence.
And this recording of the piece is notably successful in communicating that message. Beautifully conducted by René Jacobs, it offers elasticity of rhythm and a bright alfresco atmosphere. The three soloists have just the right plenitude of tone and timbre (as in Summer, their mellifluous hymn to the sun) while the RIAS Kammerchor's singing combines technical precision with a striking ease of utterance (the closing chorus of Spring is typical of their outstanding contribution).
This is a fresh and articulate Seasons for an era that most definitely needs it.
What clinches my preference for this new version is the trio of soloists, led by the soaring, sensuous soprano of Marlis Petersen. Petersen's timing and her knowing humour are delightful, both in her tale of seduction outwitted and in her love duet with Werner Güra's ardent, graceful tenor. BBC Music Magazine *****