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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Le Quattro Stagioni (The Four Seasons, 1725)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
The four seasons from Les vÍpres siciliennes (1855)
Orchestra La Scintilla/Riccardo Minasi (violin)
rec. 2019, Kirche Obserstrass, Zurich

I’ve come across Riccardo Minasi a number of times in the past, with impressive recordings of Biber’s Rosenkranz Sonaten (review) and as ensemble director of C.P.E. Bach’s Hamburg Symphonies (review). His pedigree with Vivaldi is also established in a fine recording of the Concerti per violino IV 'L'imperatore' (review), though Johan van Veen wasn’t entirely enamoured with Minasi’s ‘aggressive’ playing style.

This is an aspect of this recording of The Four Seasons that listeners will have to decide for themselves if they like it or not. The balance here is certainly weighted towards the spectacular, and Vivaldi’s energetic descriptive writing certainly plays to Minasi’s strengths. With added improvisatory embellishments where there is room to allow for them, but extremes of contrast for instance in the central Adagio of ‘Summer’, which lays the ground for a stormy final Presto that only just manages to keep from exploding entirely - exciting certainly, but also a tsunami of notes that leaves little room for nuance.

There are fun touches throughout this recording such as a lute or guitar that at times scurries through the texture like an escaping rodent. Minasi is happy to give a rustic feel to his playing in the dance-like and double-stopped passages. He also adds some delicious sliding notes in moments of repose. Everyone plays superbly, but I couldn’t help being left with the feeling that the slow bits were often being played as bridges to get to the next fast bit. That gorgeous slow central movement in ‘Autumn’ is rather let down by a harpsichord part that does nothing but rather heavy and unvarying arpeggio exercises throughout, though the Largo of ‘Winter’ is delightfully groovy. While there are always a few positive moments that contradict anything negative that can be said about this recording. This is a good one to play at loud volume while driving, but if you are looking for charm or real suspense then I have the feeling you’ll be more satisfied elsewhere. For an almost opposite view of the work with an ‘authentic’ aura have a listen to Stefano Montanari with the Accademia Bizantina (review), a performance that has plenty of life and contrast, but is also filled with softness and subtlety.

Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Les vÍpres siciliennes is a drama full of intrigue and “raging action” in the grand tradition, and it makes for a very odd bedfellow to Vivaldi. Short of these four ballet intermezzi being called Les Quatre Saisons and the somewhat tenuous historical precedents outlined in the booklet, there is no real connection between the two works here. The booklet notes admit that the character of these dances exude “a more waltzing devotion to dance, along with an imperial sheen” when compared to “Vivaldi’s lovingly detailed creations”, and while there is some illustrative detail with regard to each season you can’t entirely rid yourself of the knowledge that Verdi only wrote these pieces to satisfy Parisian operatic convention. This all said, these are fine performances of these pieces, with a certain amount of character and wit in the orchestral playing, and without too much effort you can conjure the image of dance on stage to this lively and theatrical music.

There are some alternatives around for these pieces. Josť Serebrier with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is excellent on Naxos (review). This is recorded a little more distantly, but is played with greater subtlety and with more Viennese waltz charm than with Minasi. Sir Edward Downes also recorded these with the BBC Philharmonic for Chandos (review), though I couldn’t make a comparison here.

In short, fans of Riccardo Minasi will relish this Vivaldi Four Seasons and probably ignore the Verdi, and the rest of us can doff our caps respectfully to the versatility of the Orchestra La Scintilla and for the effort and energy clearly invested in this production, and probably move on to more fertile pastures.

Dominy Clements

Disc details
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)

Le Quattro Stagioni (The Four Seasons, 1725)
Concerto No.1 in E, La Primavera – Spring, Op.8/1, RV269 [9:22]
Concerto No.2 in g minor, L’Estate – Summer, Op.8/2, RV315 [9:34]
Concerto No.3 in F, L’Autunno – Autumn, Op.8/3, RV293 [10:37]
Concerto No.4 in f minor, L’Inverno – Winter, Op.8/4, RV297 [8:46]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
The four seasons from Les vÍpres siciliennes (1855)
Act III Scene 2: Le quattro stagioni: L'inverno [6:23]
Act III Scene 2: Le quattro stagioni: La primavera [7:52]
Act III Scene 2: Le quattro stagioni: L'estate [6:14]
Act III Scene 2: Le quattro stagioni: L'autunno [9:29]

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