The first of Haydn's two great oratorios dealt with the biblical account of creation; its successor took as its subject the four seasons, drawing on the composer's long memories of the annual rural round and the country life he grew up with as a wheelwright's son. Though there's plenty of Arcadian innocence in the result, the Seasons is not without shadows. A comic scene near the end warns of the seduction techniques noblemen practise upon country maidens (unsuccessfully, in this instance). And underlying the whole is the metaphor of the seasons as representing human life, with the winter of old age and mortality bringing the piece to its pious conclusion.
Colin Davis's performance with the London Symphony Chorus and Orchestra brought out many of its virtues, though his lack of interest in informed period practice would place his interpretation, for some, in the category of old-fashioned. Certainly, many of Haydn's picturesque touches – the innumerable depictions of natural phenomena and animals, as well as hunting and drunken revelry – carry a stronger charge when period-instrument colours are brought into play. Yet Davis had the full measure of the sheer humanity of Haydn's vision, its tenderness and grandeur, and its almost childlike sense of delight in the world around him.
He also had an excellent trio of soloists at his disposal. Miah Persson's shining soprano matched well with Jeremy Ovenden's agile tenor and Andrew Foster-Williams's authoritative baritone. The choir was large and moved easily around the big choruses, even if the sopranos struggled towards some of their high notes. If this was not a performance that aspired to current notions of the constantly moving concept of authenticity, Davis's warmth and conviction in this music remain potent and undimmed.
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