Roger Norrington ended his two-week guest stint and the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s 1993/94 season on a note of sheer delight. Norrington mined most compellingly the fund of ecstasy in Joseph Haydn’s “The Seasons” that, for all the naivete of its rustic pictorialism and the hobbled rhetoric of its original text, has survived the centuries.
Norrington has been a champion of “authentic” performances and the use of reconstructed old instruments. In this revival of Haydn’s 1799 masterpiece — nearly three hours of celebration of the passing of a calendar year, including summer thunderstorms, autumnal wine tastings and winter’s chill — he offered glowing proof that respect for a bygone composer’s wishes is as much a matter of the spirit as of using the proper instruments.
Elegance, clarity and a prevalence of unbridled joyousness — these were the elements of Norrington’s performance. It didn’t matter that the excellent soloists sometimes lapsed into a modern-sounding vibrato, or that the Philharmonic violins played with the same taut bow and steel strings useful in music of Tchaikovsky — or even that a brand-new English text had been prepared (by Margaret J. Boaden and Barbara Cook) as an overdue replacement for the stilted original. The performance was pure and communicative energy.
It ended a Philharmonic season, the second under music director Esa-Pekka Salonen, remarkable for a sustained high level of planning and performance. At a time when other major orchestras — notably in New York, Philadelphia, Washington and Chicago — have moved toward more conservative leadership, Los Angeles’ bravery has become a matter of worldwide awareness, even envy. It remains, of course, to sell the news to wider audiences; the empty seats at this final, superior concert made for a saddening sight.