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LABELS: Signum Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Vivaldi: The Four Seasons
WORKS: The Four Seasons
PERFORMER: Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Kati Debretzeni (violin)


When Vivaldi opened his Op. 8 with Le Quattro Stagioni (The Four Seasons), he shattered the concerto mould. The accompanying descriptive sonnets require that the convention of hypnotically fast allegro movements gives way to the uneven staggering of drunken peasants, to the death-throes of a hunted stag; fragile icicles reduce the rich sonority of an Italian violin to crackling staccato trills; a viola barks the warning of a goatherd’s guard-dog (its breed varying unpredictably, across recordings, from Chihuahua to Rottweiler). The Seasons were immediately much admired, imitated and plagiarised, until the cloak of 19th-century Romantic taste concealed them. Since their first (1947) recording (Naxos 8.110297-98), their popularity has been phenomenal, with over 130 recordings currently available.

Anne Akiko Meyers’s distinctive contribution is her energy, sparkling tone, and immaculate technique. No one plays more crisply at the opening of ‘Spring’; the ‘Summer’ storm is ferocious, but magically coloured by a momentary shaft of sunlight; her Guaneri del Gesú violin sings beautifully at the ‘Winter’ fireside. She’s supported by a small (unspecified) number of English Chamber Orchestra strings, with attractive effects – birds twitter in the ‘Summer’ heat; her goatherd has a friendly, well-disciplined collie barking quietly on the hillside.

In RV551, she plays all three solo parts herself with admirable energy and ensemble. But the unexpected gem of her disc is Pärt’s hauntingly simple Passacaglia, a clever choice, sharing some of the Seasons’s violinistic figurations – a compelling reason to choose the disc.

For The Seasons alone, though, I prefer Kati Debretzeni. She directs 14 strings, harpsichord and theorbo of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and creates a sense of intimate chamber-playing which we’re privileged to share. The imagery of the poems is precisely detailed. Nymphs and shepherds dance with the lightest of steps, with a dramatic slowing up before the last ritornello of ‘Spring’. There’s time for the reverberation of the church venue to die away and create moments of expressive silence while the same acoustic generates a mighty summer storm. Debretzeni’s drunks stagger more unsteadily, freezing teeth chatter more like dentures, and the final movement of ‘Winter’ ranges from a barely perceptible whisper of wind to ‘Sirroco, Boreas, and all the winds at war’.


George Pratt