Vivaldi: The Four Seasons; plus works for violin and piano by Bazzini, Kreisler, Massenet and Li Zili
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Christian Li (violin)
Decca 485 1824 57:09 mins
Child prodigy Christian Li not only plays like the devil but also directs the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in this striking recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons which he made at the age of 13. It was a brave decision to tackle a work that has long been commandeered by period-instrument ensembles, but Li’s staggering virtuosity makes light weather of Vivaldi’s hail and brimstone.
Playing a modern instrument, the young Chinese-Australian violinist is nonetheless responsive to Baroque idiom – bar one or two anachronistic gestures. He brings thrilling virtuosity and myriad colours to Vivaldi’s fast movements and an exquisitely silky cantabile sound to the aria-like slow movements. Embellishments are discrete and stylish; vibrato is reserved for expressive effects; and other colouristic techniques – like playing sul ponticello to create a spectral, icy timbre in ‘Winter’ – are fully in keeping with the Baroque style.
The Melbourne players respond to Li’s passionate approach in like measure, and there’s some delightful banter between soloist and orchestra. In the tutti sections, the symphonic sound lacks a little lightness: the first movement of ‘Autumn’, for instance, is brawny and muscular, while the players lollop on great shire horses in the last movement’s hunt. But the big-band sound makes for high drama in Vivaldi’s thrilling evocations of thunder and lightning in ‘Spring’ and ‘Summer’.
Fleshing out the disc is a quartet of pieces for violin and piano, two of which (Li Zili’s Fisherman’s Harvest Song and Kreisler’s Tambourin chinois) reflect Li’s Chinese ancestry. Whatever he touches, though, this young violinist emerges as an extraordinary wunderkind.