> Antonio Vivaldi - The Four Seasons [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
The Four Seasons
Johann Caspar Ferdinand FISCHER (1656-1746)

Overture No 4 in D Minor
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)

Symphony for Strings in B Flat Major Wq182/2
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)

Concerto grosso in A Major Op 6 No 11
Francesco GEMINIANI (1687-1762)

Concerto grosso No 4 in B Minor
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Brandenburg Concerto No 3 in G Major BWV1048
Johann Georg PISENDEL (1687-1755)

Sonata in C Minor for Violin and Basso Continuo
Johann PACHELBEL (1653-1706)

Canon and Gigue
Barbara Jane Gilbey, violin (The Four Seasons, Pisendel)
Tasmanian Symphony Chamber Players
Geoffrey Lancaster, director and harpsichord
Recorded Government House Ballroom, Hobart March 1989 (Vivaldi, Fischer) and same location July 1990 (remainder)
ABC 472 424-2 [2 CDs 51’19 + 64’13]

Recorded between 1989 and 1990 this collection returns to the catalogue as an ABC double sporting the Four Seasons as its centre of attention but presenting a pleasurable mix of familiar and unusual. Based on an early edition in the Henry Watson Music Library in Manchester the modern instrument Tasmanian Symphony Chamber Players’ performance precepts in the Vivaldi are outlined in a bullish note written by harpsichordist and director, Geoffrey Lancaster. I’m not sure if castigating most of the Vivaldi-performing musical world for its promotion of "pseudo-divinity" in interpretation is a wise policy; it provokes in my mind, at least, Harold Samuel’s celebrated retort to harpsichordist Wanda Landowska when she harangued him for half an hour on the artistic, historical and aesthetic superiority of her instrument in performance of Bach and Rameau –"But Madame Landowska, I don’t like the harpsichord."

In the same spirit if you’re going to insult international performances of The Four Seasons you’d better be damn sure that your own house is in order. The implication that only this band has the approved access to correct performance practice is in itself ridiculous and I think the best policy is to put the stridency of the documentation to one side and listen clearly and coolly to the music making, which is significantly less afflicted with the need to show off than is the text. Care in matters of dynamics is clear from the start, as are, less attractively, those manifold little swells and bulges that distend and fracture the line in so many performances. The bass line in the Largo of Spring is strong and supportive; note values are well considered in the first movement of Summer; Autumn is neatly and imaginatively phrased; and the band generate a real sense of expectancy at the start of the Allegro non molto of Winter. In the famous Largo of Winter the violin is almost inaudible behind the skittish and venomously engorged pizzicati – I assume that it’s performed this way in order to exemplify the Orchestra’s so-called "credo" of anti-Romantic sensibility. Well, live by the sword, die by the sword - it sounds awful.

Elsewhere the performances are generally sound. CPE Bach’s abrupt conjunctions are well conveyed, the lean tone suitable for exemplifying, for example, the wandering chromaticisms of the slow movement of his Symphony for Strings, its apparently discursive material cohesively entertained. I liked the eruptive and confident feel to the Presto Finale as well. Matters of ornamentation enliven performance of Handel’s A Major Concerto grosso and the recording of Gemimani’s concerto grosso No 4 is claimed as a first recording using parts in Amsterdam. I wasn’t especially taken with the Bach Brandenburg – rather inflexibly aggressive – but enjoyed the Pachelbel.

Jonathan Woolf

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