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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
The Four Seasons - concertos for violin, strings and basso continuo Op. 8, Nos 1-4 (from Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione); (1. Spring, in E major, RV 269; 2. Summer, in G minor, RV 315; 3. Autumn, in F major RV 293; 4. Winter, in F minor, RV 297) (pub. 1725)
Sergei AKHUNOV (b.1967)
The Seasons [19:27]
Partita/Julia Igonina (violin)
rec. 2013, Shirma Small Hall of the Belarus State Philharmonic Society
MELODIYA MELCD1002230 [56:24]

Melodiya’s reissue packaging is going through a somewhat dour phase, black its prominent colour. Its new releases, however, whilst offering the same card book format (no jewel cases), are much more colourful. This one features the soloist very prominently, a profile shot of violinist Julia Igonina, who also directs the ensemble Partita in this recording of – yes – Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. It's also conjoined with Sergei Akhunov’s more compact and contemporary The Seasons.

The recording in the Shirma Small Hall of the Belarus State Philharmonic Society is rather resonant and this has led to the inflation of the bass line, presumably to compensate for the smallness of the ensemble in the sound-stage. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the harpsichord whose presence throughout, at least in the recorded sound, is half-hearted at best. It’s also not very imaginatively played. The line-up of Partita is 4-1-1-2.

All this rather conspires against the disc before we even get to the solo playing, although Julia Igonina plays reasonably, quite expressively in places and lingeringly in others. Her dynamics are well shaped, and except occasionally - the ill-judged finale of Winter, for instance – her passagework is engaged. The performance is better in fast movements than slow. The ensemble seems to relish the zesty dynamism of the former and seem not quite convinced how best to approach the lyricism of the latter. The slight romanticism should not offend any but purists, but the occasional ensemble imbalances – all top and bottom and an impoverished middle – are more of a concern.

A strange acoustic also accompanies Akhunov’s The Seasons, about which the notes – more a biography of the soloist – are largely silent. There are allusions to the Vivaldi in this post-minimalist work, not least in the elegant solo line gliding over pizzicati, as per the slow movement of Winter. In its filmic, old fashioned moments – which are very lovely – one can sense that he is a gifted melodist. In fact these filmic contours should really surprise no-one, as Akhunov is a well-regarded composer for films. He has in fact structured this work in five movements to reflect the concept of Kim Ki-duck’s film Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter…and Spring.
 
This is a worthwhile release, on balance, despite the recording concerns, but no one will buy it for the Vivaldi and there are only nineteen minutes of the Akhunov. A bit of a wasted opportunity, really.

Jonathan Woolf

Masterwork Index: The Four Seasons