by Duncan Eves
A shorter version of this review appeared in the Hampshire Chronicle of 14th - 20th April 2011.
First-class outing for a neglected masterpiece
Joseph Haydn’s oratorio ‘The Seasons’ is not as well known as his earlier oratorio ‘The
Creation’, nor is it performed as often. Winchester Music Club and Orchestra under the
baton of Nicholas Wilks offered us an opportunity to reappraise the work in a fine
performance on Saturday evening. From the first awakenings of Spring through to the bleak
landscapes of Winter, the Music Club chorus gave a convincing account of the text,
capturing the changing moods of the seasons with singing that conveyed both power and
subtlety. The fugue at the end of Spring pulsed with energy and the hunting scene in
Autumn was similarly vivid. Here and there in some of the loud moments the infamous
cathedral acoustic got the better of the performers, muddying the textures, but this was, by
any standards, a first-class outing for a neglected masterpiece.
The trio of soloists have a huge amount of work to do and we were blessed with three very
fine singers. The tenor, Rónan Busfield (standing in at short notice for an indisposed Jeremy
Budd), had excellent diction and a bright, clear tonal palette that caught the differing moods
of his arias very well. He blended beautifully with soprano Anna Dennis in their ensemble
passages. She was on top form, producing some rapturous sounds as she sang about the
joys of Summer and, in Autumn, the pleasures and passions of human love. Anna’s top
notes have a glorious ring to them but she also produces some lovely soft singing when
required. The bass Ashley Riches gave us drama in the Autumn hunting scene and conveyed
the icy mood of Winter, again with excellent diction.
Winchester Music Club are fortunate to have their own ‘in house’ orchestra and several of
the player deservedly gained an ovation at the end of the performance. The cheerful
shepherd at the opening of Summer was accompanied by a solo horn, and the horn section
excelled themselves in the Autumn hunting scene with vivid and sonorous playing. There
were several passages of lyrical wind playing worthy of mention and many other passages
where the orchestra provided musical depictions of the text, showing Haydn’s skill at
orchestration. It was also a pleasure to hear a fortepiano continuo rather than the usual
Presiding over all this, Nicholas Wilks remained firm and clear in his direction, enthusing his
forces to give of their best. It is such a shame that at least one third of the cathedral nave
remained empty when the performers have devoted so much time and effort producing
such an enjoyable event.