Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Le quattro stagioni, Op.8
La Primavera (Spring) RV269 [9:37]
L’estate (Summer) RV315 [10:44]
L’autunno (Autumn) RV293 [12:08]
L’inverno (Winter) RV297 [8:34]
Bassoon Concerto, RV 501 in B flat major 'La notte' [9:07]
Concerto for violin in tromba marina, strings & continuo In D, RV 221 [7:26]
Bassoon Concerto, RV 496 in G minor [9:50]
Concerto for violin in tromba marina, strings & continuo In G, RV 311 [6:00]
Peter Whelan (bassoon)
La Serenissima/Adrian Chandler (violin)
rec. 21-24 April 2015, Hospital of St Cross, Winchester, UK
AVIE RECORDS AV2344 [74:43]
They keep on coming don’t they, recordings of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. This particular release has more than one intriguing USP, but first up is that set of concertos that has to be counted as one of if not the most popular ‘classical’ works of all time.
Adrian Chandler and his period-instrument ensemble La Serenissima have become well-known through numerous recordings on Avie, and they celebrate their 21st anniversary with this release. There are quite extensive notes in the booklet and Chandler has created a new edition of The Four Seasons based on the only surviving manuscript of these works. While there is plenty of scholarly grounding to this interpretation it is the performance which brings the music to life, something which very much happens here. These concertos are played in period style, but aside from crisply rhythmic style and transparent sonorities there is much in Adrian Chandler’s solo playing alone which will make you want to hear this recording again and again. There is quite a good deal of folk-like style in the performance with little added ornaments, a free and rhapsodic narrative touch where possible, and a general spirit of well-prepared lawlessness that is quite refreshing. Ensemble and soloist find the beauty in the music but one has the impression that this is not their prime objective – nor is it the taking of the performance to pictorial extremes. Yes, the canvas is richly laden with seasonal atmosphere, sparkling weather and the usual animals and characters, but the essence of these performances is that they are massively entertaining on every level. The virtuoso wonders of the soloist are equalled and imitated by the ensemble, and the two sometimes seem locked in a life and death struggle, as in the final Presto of Summer. The sheer joy of musicianship on display here draws us in and keeps us fully engrossed.
Unusual phrasing makes us re-think some movements, such as the phrase division in the main theme that opens Autumn. The instrumental dialogue here is strikingly effective, and if you think you know this music well then this will make you sit up and listen anew. Some of these alterations to standard perceptions of this music might seem wilful, but to my ears there is a strong sense of logic and an intelligent engagement with untapped possibilities in this approach. I know it is easy to have a ‘bird in the hand’ response to each new recording that comes along, but this one really is rather special. I think the last one I enthused about was Richard Tognetti on the BIS label (review) but the sheer verve and animated antiqueness of this Avie performance makes it a new firm favourite.
More than mere fillers, the remaining concertos in this programme form a foursome almost as fascinating as the Four Seasons. Played with elegant and characterful ease by Peter Whelan, the Concerto ‘La Notte’ RV 501 is another virtuoso showpiece, the title alluding to haunting nocturnal goings-on, the magical world of sleep and a final energetic sunrise. The Concerto RV 496 has the name Maestro de Morzin on its title page, a reference to the orchestra of Count Wenzel von Morzin for which it was written. This is full of marvellous harmonic twists and sharp contrasts of texture, the first movement also a stern test for the soloist’s tongue in long passages of swiftly articulated notes.
Adrian Chandler points out Vivaldi’s “extremely avant-garde approach to instrumental colour” in his notes, and the revival of the violin in tromba marina is a major attraction of this recording. This instrument is described as “a pimped-up violin with three strings (G, D & A) … intended to produce a sound not dissimilar to a tromba marina … a single-stringed instrument that can be traced back as early as the 12th century and which was still in use during the days of Mozart’s youth.” Used as a substitute for brass instruments considered inappropriate for convent chapels but long considered obsolete, this violin has a different sort of projection and sound colour than your usual violin, but I suspect the innocent ear wouldn’t hear it as anything other than a ‘normal’ violin – perhaps one given a little amplified boost in the recorded balance, but nothing hugely out of the ordinary. There is a photo detail of the bridge of this violin with its three strings and an extra bolt through the wood of the bridge. These are excellent concertos but sonically not quite the surprise promised by the text. La Serenissima’s website promises to have more information on the violin in tromba marina soon.
We can all stand to have more than one recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons on our shelves, and this one, to my amazement and delight, deserves a refreshingly bright spotlight for its inventiveness and originality.