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Vivaldi seasons AV2485
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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
The Four Seasons (Le Quattro Stagioni)
La primavera [10:51]
L’estate [10:15]
L’autonno [11:16]
L’inverno [9:09]
“La Folia” – Concerto Grosso (arr. Sorrell) [10:45]
Francisco Fullana (violin)
Apollo’s Fire/Jeannette Sorrell
rec. 15-17 April, 2021, Avon Lake United Church of Christ, USA
AVIE AV2485 [52:16]

If a determined compact disc collector set out to lay every recording of The Four Seasons end to end, it might be possible for him to form a land bridge from the United States to Europe. With so many recordings available, and with so much (over)exposure of the work itself, it’s likely that most serious listeners will have either expunged The Four Seasons from their collections, or that they have stubbornly held on to one or two favored discs, passing up the hundreds of newcomers that seem arrive on the market every year.

Passing on this recording would be a great pity, however, for this is an outstanding rendition of Vivaldi’s evergreen concerti. The Spanish violinist Francisco Fullana plays with the impeccable intonation and technical command you would expect from any Juilliard graduate, but he also plays with a great deal of verve and imagination. This is not a paint-by-the-numbers rendition; at any given moment, you will hear unexpected ornamentation, a surprise ricochet bowing, or a bit of particularly spicy rubato. There is a wonderful energy to Fullana’s playing, an energy that revives the sense of discovery, joy, and drama that can be lost in more humdrum outings of these pieces. This isn’t to imply that moments of repose don’t receive their full due. The end of the first movement of Autumn, for example, is surprisingly poignant, Fullana tenderly laying Vivaldi’s drunken peasants to bed before the return of the opening Allegro assai material.

Jeannette Sorrell and her merry band provide a wild accompaniment to Fullana’s musings. The Cleveland-based Apollo’s Fire is a tight ensemble, and like Fullana, play with infectious enthusiasm. Every detail has been carefully worked out, with numerous changes of tempi and dynamics sprinkled throughout each concerto. Some of these shifts work better than others, though the balance is firmly in favor of their musical experimentations. The audible use of baroque harp in some of the movements is inspired; the added glissandi in the final moments of Winter made the hair on my neck stand up.

This disc filler is Sorrell’s own arrangement of Vivaldi’s trio sonata in d minor (RV 63) based on “La Folia,” the famous tune and ground bass tackled by a number of Baroque era composers, most famously Arcangelo Corelli. The group really lets their hair down here, thwacking heartily at the strings col legno (with the wood of the bow) and underlining the Spanish rhythms with zeal.

Sorrell initiates the booklet notes with a rather long-winded exploration of the question “Why another recording of The Four Seasons?” Although I began this review with a jest about the number of Four Seasons records out there, Sorrell should have trusted her own musicianship, as well as the skill and passion of her band and outstanding soloist. An excellent performance is an excellent performance, and no apologia was necessary in this case.

Richard Masters

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