Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons
The Four Seasons; Concerto, RV 317, G minor Op. 12
Sarah Chang (violin); Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
EMI 394 4312
Not since Henryk Szeryng’s late 1960s classic version for Philips has Vivaldi’s avian masterpiece sounded as seductively beautiful as here, the music gently cushioned as though on a bed of velvet by the EMI engineers. Flying in the face of the increasingly absurd mannerisms favoured by many period instrument groups, Sarah Chang and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra take us back in time to the glory days of the 1950s and ’60s when such distinguished Italian groups as the Virtuosi di Roma and I Musici prized beauty of sound above all. Chang’s ravishing, seamless cantabile, captivating subtlety of dynamic and tone colour, and exquisite timing provide musical balm where other versions appear intent on lacerating the eardrums.
In the original manuscript each concerto is prefaced by a sonnet, which by means of identifying letters is cross-referenced to a particular passage in the music. The second movement of ‘Spring’, for example, depicts ‘the flower-strewn meadow, with leafy branches rustling overhead, the goat-herd sleeps, the shepherd’s faithful dog beside him’. Here, as throughout, Chang paints a romantically idealised portrait of the scene, gently cosseting and coaxing phrases, bathing in the music’s expressively poignant sequencing where others fall back on graphic, onomatopoeic suggestion.
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In July 2005 I welcomed Janine Jensen’s electrifying chamber-scale version as ideally combining the quick-fire interpretative reflexes of period instruments with the beguiling tonal allure of a modern set-up. By returning this remarkable score to the musical mainstream, Sarah Chang reminds us how deeply moving it can sound when given space to breathe both naturally and eloquently. She has never made a finer recording.
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