Johannes Somary

Franz Joseph Haydn: The Seasons

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Large American civic choirs, especially in the northeastern part of the country, have been singing oratorios and other large choral works of the eighteenth century for a long time. This reading of Haydn's The Seasons by the Fairfield County Chorale of Connecticut under conductor Johannes Somary and the period-instrument Amor Artis Classical Orchestra, with a trio of soloists, is perhaps a representative example of the results. The choir, with 95 singers leaning heavily on their American-accented vowels, is not a precision instrument, but there's an enthusiasm in these massed performances that's hard to duplicate in any other context. The best news is the collection of soloists here. Bass-baritone Jan Opalach is terrific in the role of the farmer Simon, with perfectly clear articulation of the text (the 1970s American reworking of the English-language version of the oratorio) and a knack for the jolly, folkish tunes given to this character. The other two are not quite in his league, but soprano Susanne Peck as Hannes (as Jane is called in this version) gets a laugh with her tale of the peasant girl who escapes the predatory aristocrat by distracting him and jumping onto his horse (CD 2, track 12). The low point is the use of the boxy Norwalk Concert Hall, which swallows up a lot of the work by the orchestra's natural horns and many of the delightful pictorial details that animate so much of the score. There are other versions of Haydn's oratorio with more of a punch (the summer thunderstorm in Roger Norrington's version with the RIAS-Kammerchor and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe will have you running to close the windows), but no one would want to eliminate performances of this type from the scene.

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