Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741) Le Quattro Stagioni (The Four Seasons) [40:35]
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992) Las Cuatros Estaciones Porteñas [27:59]
Order: Vivaldi Spring, Piazzolla Summer, Vivaldi Summer, Piazzolla Autumn, Vivaldi Autumn, Piazzolla Winter, Vivaldi Winter, Piazzolla Spring
Jonathan Morton (violin)/Scottish Ensemble
rec. live, 23 April 2010, The Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland
SIGNUM SIGCD231 [68:34]
It’s become a popular concert offering to present Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in alternation with Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. This disc pretty accurately reflects that concert experience, recorded as it was during a live performance on 23 April 2010. The Scottish Ensemble and violinist Jonathan Morton use the live setting to take risks and put their own stamp on the music, so this is an individual account for some tastes but not others.
The musicians are a small and dedicated band. The Scottish Ensemble comprises twelve string players, some of whom appear rather blurrily on the album’s cover, as well as solo harpsichordist and lutenist. The lute is permitted to take over for an interesting continuo part in some of the Vivaldi, and indeed (very creatively) at the end of one of the Piazzolla works. The band’s small size lends itself to an improvisatory playing style in the Vivaldi — lines are echoed in places like the first movement of Spring, and in spots where Vivaldi wrote in a repeated melody the second iteration will be very different - sometimes wonderfully soft. Notes and chords tend to be ‘clipped’ but some phrases end with a sudden relaxation, like the musicians are breathing out.
Jonathan Morton is an intermittently sympathetic soloist, with a somewhat pinched tone in the Vivaldi and occasional ornamental additions of his own, some of them successful. He does not exceed Gidon Kremer’s effort in this coupling on Nonesuch, nor does he match Tianwa Yang’s boiling passion in her Piazzolla album on Naxos. To some extent, though, those comparisons might be unfair; this is a live performance, recorded in one take, and at any rate no Four Seasons of Buenos Aires can really be compared to Yang’s, with its breathtaking phrasing, luxurious portamenti, and a passionate tone which burns through the notes like liquid fire. Morton reminded me that mere mortals play this music too, and with zest too, although in ‘Otoño porteño’ he is upstaged by a gloriously lyrical cello solo from Alison Lawrance.
I’m not sold on this as my ‘Eight Seasons’ of choice, as you may have gathered; the Scottish Ensemble’s way with Vivaldi can be terse, and although they are really on point in the Piazzolla - the harshness at the beginning of ‘Otoño’ is impressive, and the fugue at the beginning of ‘Primavera’ is electrifying - the competition is just too stiff. I can’t tear myself away from Tianwa Yang’s super-emotive solo work here. But that’s my taste; some will find this brew just right, so try some samples and if the live energy and ensemble appeal to you, give it a go.
Not my taste, but that’s not their fault; the excitement of live performance.