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Dip Your Ears, No. 30c (Who Needs the Four Seasons?)

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A.Vivaldi, Le quattro stagioni, Concerto Italiano, R. Alessandrini

If you have to think hard, when given the option, of being shot in the head or listening to another Four Seasons, you feel like I do – and you also need this recording of, yes, the Four Seasons. When I saw it being the Gramophone Editor's choice well over a year ago, I thought that to be a good argument for the alcohol-free workplace over there. But sure enough, they had it right. This isn't your average, pretty Four Seasons: in fact, I am not sure if it is the Four Seasons at all, so different does the Concerto Italiano make these first four concerti of the op. 8 set (Il Cimento dell'armonia e dell'invenzione) sound under Rinaldo Alessandrini.

The vivid and very present, rich sound is just the least of factors. The vitality of the music making leaps from the speakers and had me laugh out loud at several moments out of sheer amazement at what that original instrument band gets out of this most overplayed work of them all. Rather than trying to play all the notes as beautifully as they can (if you actually want to "waste your time" on such a performance, Gil Shaham and Orpheus/DG are not likely to be beaten in the beauty department), they go for an approach as evocative of the underlying sonnets as possible. The sonnets give the four seasons line-by-line instructions as to what this program music is all about. Additionally, the Le Cène edition of the orchestral parts gives yet more, almost note-by-note, instructions. While still hitting all the right notes, Concerto Italiano goes for these instructions and the result is breathtaking.

Many moments in the performance are far away from conventionally "pretty." There is aggression, discord (listen to the opening of Fall), and eeriness. Try the second movement of Summer (track 5) where the violins playing sul tasto perfectly get the heat shimmering on a hot day, with the inevitable thunderstorm approaching until it breaks lose with fat raindrops quenching the earth's thirst in the third movement (track 6).

The orchestra and especially the string players are not musicians on this recording; they are actors. With some parts, you could probably scare your children, but mostly it will evoke a sense of awe of what can be done with music, what music can do, what music should be: pure joy. Do yourself a favor and rediscover it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've owned this disc for a couple of years now, and I am in complete agreement with you about everything. This piece of music defines the word "overplayed," but Alessandrini and his players completely reinvent it. I too bought it based on the Gramophone review and I'm glad I did.

And the second disc is excellent.