LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Vivaldi: The Four Seasons; Rebel: Les Éléments*
PERFORMER: Midori Seiler (violin); Academy for Ancient Music, Berlin/Clemens-Maria Nuszbaumer, *George Kallweit
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 902061
Anyone detecting a certain heightened physicality in Midori Seiler’s approach to the Four Seasons needs to check out the DVD of the ‘choreographic concert’ which occasioned this music-only offshoot (see review, p94).
There they’ll find her playing part of Summer atop stepladders with a hankie on her head – when she’s not being borne aloft on the shoulders of choreographer Juan Kruz Diaz de Garaio Esnaola, or pelted with paper darts lobbed by members of the orchestra. In Autumn the musicians contend with balancing apples on their heads. A Four Seasons on auto-pilot from these period instrument players was never going to happen and the result is thrillingly visceral.
Seiler hasn’t set out merely to stand apart from the crowd (in an oft-recorded work where ‘crowd’ borders on understatement); she and the Berliners have simply insisted on taking nothing for granted – except a manifest capacity to play with incisive panache and vivid narrative imagination.
Even so it’s not a performance for all seasons unless you can accommodate certain liberties on repeated hearings. Quite apart from a sometimes distracting division into orchestras 1 and 2, and ‘drone upbeat’ to Spring’s finale (where Seiler’s caprice almost flirts with Bartókian quarter tones), Summer’s frightened Shepherd is embellished to within an inch of his life, and Autumn’s drunkenness risks a night in the cells.
The seasoning might be overdone for everyday consumption, but with equally tastebud-tantalising Rebel furnishing a near-contemporary French slant on the programmatic impulse, the sheer flair of this new release dazzles as much as it delights. Paul Riley