WORKS: The Four Seasons; Concerto for Two Violins, RV 522; Concerto for Four Violins, RV 580
PERFORMER: Iona Brown (violin); Academy of St Martin in the Fields;
CATALOGUE NO: 98.107
Laying aside the question of whether the CD buyer needs another two Four Seasons to add to the eighty-plus versions currently available in the UK, these are both creditable, though very different, additions to the roster.
Iona Brown and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields’s rendition is the more decorous and tasteful of these two modern-instrument versions, with a delightfully clear, bright overall sound.
Zehetmair and Camerata Bern attack the concertos with a lot more fire, but are sometimes in danger of taking things to extremes, using idiosyncratic phrasing and roller-coastering through with such fast tempi that they crush any charm out of the music. In particular, the Largo in the middle of Winter, representing ‘quiet and happy days by the fire’, is played so fast and above such manic raindrop pizzicato that it is as far as possible from being relaxing.
Brown’s playing may not be as dazzling as Zehetmair’s fiendish fastness, and her tone is sometimes thin in the upper registers, but on the whole I prefer the ASMF’s disc for its sense of wholeness and balance: Camerata Bern’s interpretation stands in danger of being over-interpreted.
Both discs have two more Vivaldi concertos as couplings, La tempesta di mare showing off more of Zehetmair’s masterly accuracy. Janet Banks