> Vivaldi - The Four Seasons [PQ]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
The Four Seasons; Violin Concertos op.8 nos.1-4, RV269, 315, 293, 297
Concertos RV581 and 582, for the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary
London Mozart Players
David Juritz (violin and director)
Recorded at the church of St Silas the Martyr, Chalk Farm, London, on 1 and 2 March 1999
NAXOS DVD 5.110001 [62.39]


Crotchet  £8.50 AmazonUK   AmazonUS


The catalogue number gives you the clue that this represents Naxos’s first venture into Classical DVD: in some ways a tentative toe dipped into the murky waters of multimedia, but by no means an ill-considered one. Eighteen concerto movements each have their own static image displayed throughout the playing time. This may at first seem like an unadventurous way to explore the possibilities of marrying image to music afforded by DVD, but its notable advantage is that it allows those of an imaginative bent to ‘colour in’ the musical pictorialism which abounds in the Four Seasons without sacrificing the music at the altar of some misbegotten nature film (and I’ve seen a few of those: most offensive being a film of the Lake District peaks with a running loop of the Andante to Mahler 6 in the background). Those who find the imagery distracting are, of course, free to switch it off.

But forget the pictures for the moment: the disc beguiles from the start with its principal asset, the sensitive and alert responses of the London Mozart Players. Their crescendos through the opening ritornello of Spring’s first movement suggest breaths of fresh air most affectingly without falling into the trap of affected. Although this is ostensibly Juritz’s interpretation, the Players’ high degree of collective virtuosity and intelligence seems to shape the music unobtrusively. Leader Yuri Zhislin and first cello Sebastian Comberti are acknowledged soloists in their own right: quite properly, the orchestral members are listed in the notes – with one exception. Lively but largely uncontroversial tempos and some quirky articulation betray an awareness of Baroque performing practice without slavish devotion to its precepts: no ugly swells mid-note or ‘excitingly’ rough tone here.

David Juritz ornaments tastefully and extensively in slow movements: that of Spring has at least three times the number of notes than those in the score. He’s unafraid to pull the tempo around when he thinks he can get away with it: the gathering clouds of Summer’s first movement lour most effectively. You might reasonably raise an eyebrow at the stop-start way that soloist and conductor trip over each other among the haystacks in the first movement of Autumn, but there’s a hale and hearty, girls-and-boys-come-out-to-play feeling that’s easily enjoyable. Juritz steps courteously aside in that concerto’s second movement to allow the excellent and sadly anonymous harpsichordist his moment of glory. Here the rain-spattered leaves on screen make a moving juxtaposition to the slow, insistent drip of arpeggio figurations.

By this stage, however, I was quite glad of a break from Juritz. What at the outset was pleasure taken from his unexaggerated playing gradually turned into an impatience with him to vary his tone colours. Too much of the solo playing on the disc has a forthrightness that palls after a while. He is rhythmically four-square in the Danza Pastorale finale of Spring where his colleagues catch the music’s lilt beautifully. The pinsharp focus of the recording not only constantly exposes traffic noise in the Four Seasons’ last three concertos but also catches Juritz technically slack at various points: staccato runs in the finale of Summer, a loss of bow control at the end of a long-held note in the fist movement of Autumn. I emphasise that these faults would hardly matter did not the recording expose them so mercilessly.

The two bonus concertos are just that, really. Endless 1-4-5 progressions in the first movement of the D major hardly set the pulse racing regardless of the acoustic marvel of two orchestras (the concertos’ unusual scoring) in surround sound. Here too the images lose the plot, falling back on religiose evocations of gloomy cloisters and over-exposed, unfocused snaps of altarpieces. A pity, because this DVD is well worth its minimal outlay for the Four Seasons alone.

Peter Quantrill

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