Vivaldi: Le quattro stagioni; Violin Concerto in A minor, RV 356

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COMPOSERS: Vivaldi
LABELS: Ondine
WORKS: Le quattro stagioni; Violin Concerto in A minor, RV 356
PERFORMER: Virtuosi di Kuhmo/Pekka Kuusisto (violin)
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 939-2
With works as popular as Vivaldi’s Seasons, (100 available recordings), Bach’s Brandenburgs (nearly 50), Beethoven’s ‘Fifth’ (130!), it’s tempting to veer towards the bizarre simply to reanimate one’s enthusiasm. In recent times, The Seasons have been recorded by a trio of guitars, recorder quintet and even seven kotos. Nor is this a new phenomenon: Chédeville offered them for ‘musette, hurdy-gurdy or flute’ in the 1740s, Rousseau for solo flute in 1775.

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Vivaldi’s accompanying sonnets paint graphic word-pictures with additional instructions in the music – the goatherd’s dog is to bark ‘very loud and rough’. For extreme scene-painting, try Il Giardino Armonico (Teldec). Nothing touches their stifling ‘Summer’ nor glacial winter, but the dog is an out-of-tune rottweiler, carousing peasants become legless – just too idiosyncratic for my benchmark. Pekka Kuusisto and the Virtuosi di Kuhmo, 16 young Finnish players, approach the opposite extreme. Their ensemble is near-immaculate, intonation unblemished, and they respect Vivaldi’s formal concerto structure – it withstands the ravages of Winter’s storms, a constant pulse unifying contrasting images of freezing stillness, horrid winds, trembling legs, chattering teeth. Dove and goldfinch are charmingly hidden in distant foliage, the hunt a jaunty canter, their peasants drunk but not disorderly. Recorded sound too is polished if rather distant. This is a recording I shall enjoy returning to, most perhaps for the familiar A minor concerto, Op.3/6 where Kuusisto reflects perfectly the music’s poise and elegance.

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But, with perky birds, stifling heat, exhilarating hunt, vividly splashing rain – distinctive, yet stopping short of gimmickry – Tafelmusik/Lamon remain my benchmark. George Pratt