The Seasons - Gabrieli Consort & Players / Paul McCreesh - Barbican, 14 January 2012
I hadn't originally intended to go to this. Two and a half hours of Haydn is always a risky proposition, and the Barbican's eyewatering ticket prices this season (up to £45 for this one) have made me cut back significantly on what I see there. But a last minute offer via Twitter - all seats just £5 - made it unmissable (and pretty much packed out the house). If they'd priced it more sensibly to begin with, they wouldn't have needed to discount tickets - when will they and ENO grasp this simple premise?
Anyway, it was the best fiver I spent all weekend. The Gabrieli Consort are a 'period' ensemble - minus the grating exactitude that term implies. Why, Paul McCreesh had even rewritten the lumpy original text into something more flowing and comprehensible. His unflagging verve meant the leisurely tempi never dragged, and along the way all Haydn's witty little details like buzzing bees and hunting calls were carefully highlighted. The choir were more like an opera chorus, with individual voices emerging instead of a homogenous sound. Although they weren't quite precise, diction was so immaculate I could do without the printed text provided.
Great soloists too. Christopher Purves, Allan Clayton and Christiane Karg could hardly have been bettered for their technical security, excellent diction and the sort of committed characterisation that really brought the words to life. Clayton's Big Issue seller beard made an incongruous addition to the white tie uniform du jour, but the low key elegance of Christiane Karg's strapless green taffeta gown was a perfect choice. I last heard Karg in Munich's Palestrina a couple of years ago and her balletically agile silvery soprano remains a joy to hear. Her Wigmore Hall debut recital this summer should be well worth catching.