- The Four Seasons (Il quattro stagione), concertos (4) for violin, strings & continuo ("Il cimento" Nos. 1-4) , Op. 8/1 - 4
There are several attractions to this release by violinist Adrian Chandler and his English historical-instrument group La Serenissima. One is the presence of a pair of world premieres, which despite the size of Vivaldi's output are not as common as they used to be. These are a pair of concertos for the violin in tromba marina, an instrument so rare that one had to be reconstructed for this recording. It's a three-stringed violin, apparently an elaboration of a monochord that was intended to evoke the sound of a marine trumpet (hence the name). Vivaldi is the only composer known to have written for it, and as usual he was brilliant in making use of its capabilities, writing open chords of a kind that did not appear in any of his other compositions. You also get unusually sensitive performances of a pair of bassoon concertos by Baroque bassoonist Peter Whelan. But none of this would have mattered had the main enterprise, a recording of the much-played "Four Seasons," not succeeded. The graphics blurb blandly states that the players "use characterization" to shape their reading, but that's putting it mildly. Chandler offers an explosive, high-contrast reading in the vein of the Italian school of the 2000s, and the thunderstorms and such get very exciting. He buttresses his wilder moments with reference to the sonnets Vivaldi included with the "Four Seasons" as a program, and these are included in the CD booklet. The performance uses a hand copy of the work, possibly relying on an earlier version that, Chandler argues, matches the sonnets more closely. The performance is a rollicking, foot-stomping affair that exuberantly breaks into heavy ornamentation at a few points, and some of this doesn't quite work. The famous center movement of the "Winter" concerto, for instance, is more of a moderate snowstorm than a silent winter landscape. The sound, recorded at the Hospital of the Cross in Winchester, UK, is a bit hollow; the location was perhaps suggested by the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice for which many of these pieces were composed, but that was not really a hospital nor even, as is often stated, an orphanage. These are the only complaints, though, about a very fine outing from a fast-rising British band.