Magazine article The New Yorker

Choral Capitals; Classical Notes

Magazine article The New Yorker

Choral Capitals; Classical Notes

Article excerpt

Haydn's "The Seasons," like a late volume of Proust, is much admired but rarely experienced these days, and Rene Jacobs's new recording (on Harmonia Mundi) manages to retrieve the sense of excitement that Haydn's early audiences must have felt. The ultra-classical composer, in one of his final works, responded to James Thomson's pastoral poem with the sensitivity of a young Romantic. As he revels in the buzzing of insects, the braying of hounds, the babbling of brooks, or (with dark and swaying strings) the "blind flight of vultures" to their "gloomy caverns," Haydn seems on the verge of becoming Berlioz--thanks to Jacobs, who draws out big sounds and sumptuous colors from the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra. The lead singers--the soprano Marlis Petersen, the tenor Werner Gura, and the baritone Dietrich Henschel--are all superb, and the members of the R.I.A.S. Chamber Choir take on Haydn's demanding choral writing with the agility of soloists.

Schoenberg, who was even more Viennese than Haydn, explores the heavenly city of Jacob's dream in his unfinished expressionist masterpiece "Die Jakobsleiter" ("Jacob's Ladder"). His recondite text for the oratorio, which draws on the Bible, Swedenborg, and Balzac, could occupy a philosophy department for years, but its spiritual essence is powerful, and the music has a visceral impact that more than makes up for its rugged atonality. …

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