The Organ

BBC Prom 14

BBC Prom 14
23rd July

Joseph Haydn's inspiring The Seasons provided the entire programme for Prom 14. The chamber orchestra and chorus both belonged to the Handel and Hadyn Society of Boston, and were conducted by their Artistic Advisor Sir Roger Norrington. The US Society, founded in 1815, represents one of the leading proponents of the genre.

For a piece of such epic proportions, the composing of The Seasons was not the labour of love one might have expected. In fact, Hadyn committed himself to the project with apparent reluctance. The phenomenal popularity of his earlier Creation could seemingly not be sustained – even tonight's performance saw a Royal Albert Hall barely half full. The text material with which he had to work was a rather 'twee' adaptation of a popular poem of the time that illustrates the life of a peasant. The pastoral Utopia was narrated and characterised by three vocal soloists playing the parts of idealised individuals. Ever the consummate perfectionist, Haydn nevertheless produced a real gem, bursting with melody.

The conductor was very undemonstrative and effortless in style, and this helped to give a personal, intimate rendition of the piece as a whole. So accomplished was the musicianship of the orchestra and chorus, Norrington could augment the performance with extra motifs. Soloists Sally Matthews (soprano), James Gilchrist (tenor) and Jonathan Lemalu (bass-baritone) were all superb, keeping a firm grasp on the authentic sounds of the period, with less stress on vibrato. The strong opera backgrounds of Matthews and Lemalu in particular added drama and feeling to their performances. The use of soloists with such training was something of a brainwave as the roles required plenty of 'acting'. Lucas was occasionally found wanting in this department - he was sometimes weak in the softer tenor recits - although he showed a good control of tone.

Although deference to the Creator is perhaps surprisingly sparing, the piece contains high drama, romance and light comedy in equal measure, and the performers did not disappoint in these areas. They displayed great versatility throughout: from the power of the summer thunderstorm to the excitement of a hunt, from the tenderness of love duets to the merriment of a village dance.

A remarkable vocal dexterity was demanded of soloists and chorus in the German pronunciation of the text. This they accomplished very well. Norrington led a fairly informal feel to the performance, inviting the audience to applaud between sections. It was clear that all on stage enjoyed the evening as much as the delighted hall.

Jonathan Kendon