A Violin for All Seasons
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Le Quattro Stagioni, Op.8/1-4 (1725) [40:49]
Roxanna PANUFNIK (b. 1968)
Four World Seasons (2007–11) [21:23]
Tasmin Little (violin)/BBC Symphony Orchestra
rec. St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London NW11, 4 – 6 January 2016. DDD/DSD

“A Violin for All Seasons” announces this Multichannel SACD latest entrant in the Four Seasons stakes – the latter title of which should be doubled as it’s coupled with Roxanna Panufnik’s Four World Seasons, a geographical tour d’horizon written for the soloist in the recording, Tasmin Little.

Whether this is now eight seasons or two times four makes little difference, though it adds a contemporary gloss to the programming and allows Little to add another premiere recording to her discography.

She directs the BBC Symphony in a modern instrument performance that marries sufficient rhythmic resilience to sonic colour without compromising on individuality. One point struck me as curious, though it will only be of interest to violin fanciers. The orchestra is not led by Stephen Bryant but by Bradley Creswick so it’s the latter we hear jousting with Little in the Vivaldi not the expected Bryant. I wonder why?

Some of the rubati in Spring are worthy of note – the chirping and deft dynamics too. Whilst the slow movement is nicely communicative the dog barks are a touch tame, or maybe I have become accustomed to less domestic canines in this movement over the years. What’s certainly true is that the full string body sounds ripely engaging. Little’s fastest-bow-in the-West approach to the opening of Summer is the acme of glamorous engagement – but she’s not afraid to generate some resinous sounds – and there’s languor and indeed torpor in the central panel of the concerto. The finale is exciting, the harpsichord audible but not over-prominent. Little’s rich tone is heard to great advantage in the opening of Autumn where there is a long harpsichord interpolation from David Wright; on repeated listening I’m not sold on it. The pizzicati in the Largo of Winter are, mercifully, not too loud – I’ve heard them obliterate the solo violin line before now – and Little decorates the line early rather than embellishing in the reprise of theme. I prefer the unembellished lyricism and affectionate directness of the classic Alan Loveday but appreciate that decoration can be appropriate and effective. It’s just that I’d have preferred it later.

So, all in all, this is a rhythmically vital, colourful, engaging big band performance with a full complement of satisfying details.

Panufnik’s own Seasons visits four distinct countries. Avid lyricism and folkloric inflexions infuse Autumn in Albania, written in memory of her father Andrzej. The high-lying skittering figures sound like a Balkan lark, ascending, though there are also soulful moments where Little’s vibrato widens, sobbing into the autumnal air. The Tibetan singing bowl makes its presence felt in the second panel with its quasi-improvisatory elements – slow, spiritual, with a deeply long line. Rebirth features prominently in Spring in Japan, the tangy, clay-rich lower strings supporting the solo violin which gets more and more active and flighty as it burgeons into renewed life. Finally there is Indian Summer – Panufnik journeys not from Vivaldi’s Spring to Winter but from Autumn to Summer – in which fascinating hues and painterly colours lightly evoke, through violinistic techniques, Northern Indian traditional violin playing.

The two Seasons form a most attractive contrast and reflect well on all concerned.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Brian Wilson

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