Above : Musical Director of the Willoughby Symphony Choir, Peter Ellis.                                         Featured image : Willoughby Symphony Choir at The Concourse Chatswood.

Willoughby Symphony Choir, Willoughby Symphony Orchestra and soloists under the vibrant directorship of Peter Ellis delivered a joyous performance of Haydn’s colourful oratorio The Seasons.

The concert hall at The Concourse in Chatswood reverberated with the sheer excitement and power of this choir. Haydn’s characteristic gift for direct, exuberant and evocative musical painting of
scenes or situations was exploited to the utmost in energetic performances from choir, orchestra and three talented storytelling soloists.

The Seasons, first performed in German in April 1801, has enjoyed an English language version reworking by Paul McCreesh of Gabrielli Consort fame. This dynamic refreshment of the text  and fleshing out of the script in Gottfried van Swieten’s problematic English libretto facilitates a much fuller and grammatically correct narrative.

The calibre of oratorio soloists assembled in this concert was high. Their solo and ensemble skill saw them interacting formidably with each other, the choir, orchestra and audience. Tales of seasonal
country life as well as humour, descriptions of the weather and moral lessons came alive in this performance.

With the revised English libretto the work’s storylines were elaborated in clear and detailed style to match the colour and poignancy of Haydn’s musical tapestry.

Soprano Amy Moore graced us with fine characterisation in her role of Hannah and clear beauty of tone across all registers, especially a pure upper register. The foreboding prior to the storm at the end of the Summer movement was skilfully created with chilling tone and measured drama in text such as ‘In fear and anguish, all Nature holds its breath’. Her delivery of the humorous tale to fellow
spinners about outwitting a predatory male was recounted during the Winter movement with admirable verve and clear diction.

Tenor Nicholas Jones also excelled in characterisation of his character Lucas, displaying his stage experience including work in opera, oratorio and lieder. Notable was the successful chemistry and fluid dialogue with his beloved, Amy Moore’s Hannah.

The short discussion of love and commitment between Jones’ tenor and Moore’s soprano soloists during the Autumn movement was a heartfelt moment of sonorous duet and fine conversational solo lines. There was keen intent and clean, well-characterised rendering of the text set economically by Haydn.

Rich in narrative strength and scene-setting presence was baritone Daniel Macey’s ever-solid and precise singing in the role of Simon. His opening lines to summon in spring in this work, ‘See, Winter,
stern and gloomy, flees/To farthest reaches of the north”, was a commanding start to the oratorio.

This fine opening was in line with the dramatic success of the preceding musical introduction from the orchestra. It was a sign of the richness of tone and communicative strength we repeatedly heard from this soloist. His participation in full ensemble moments with the other two soloists was always well balanced and dynamic.

Willoughby Symphony Choir set the shifting scenes within the seasons of the year and wholesome country life with striking and apt punctuations of exchanges or musings by soloists. Declamatory and
celebratory choruses rather than fugal ones were the tightest and most successful. All choruses however effectively broke up some lengthy chunks of text.

Particularly rousing in this regard was the drinking song episode following the grape harvest at the end of the Autumn movement. All forces and voices celebrated together in fine style here, including
tambourines played by choir members and baritone soloist.

Thrilling work from the choir, soloists and orchestra brought fear and panic to the stage at the end of the Summer movement. Outbursts in the choir at the text  ‘Ah! The storm approaches near! Heaven protect us!’ were controlled, edge of the seat moments of drama. Full, joyous chorus sounds and text delivery describing spring in ‘Come gentle Spring’, as well as the summer sun in ‘Behold the Sun!’ were other highlights.

Conductor Peter Ellis constantly brought out instrumental drama in the orchestra, ensuring the shifts in Haydn’s effective accompaniment were achieved with precision, power and passion. It was an effective reading of the score and was at all times a stable layer over which the vocal work andrevised libretto spoke to us.

This concert showcased Willoughby Symphony Choir [Facebook] and Willoughby Symphony Orchestra well. It also brought a key work of the oratorio canon to the audience as an interesting new or old favourite.