WORKS: Le quattro stagioni
PERFORMER: Réka Szilvay (violin); Helsinki Strings/Czaba Szilvay, Géza Szilvay
CATALOGUE NO: 8573-84714-2
Let’s Murder Vivaldi was the title of a David Mercer play. It would suit this CD, too, more so than the daft The Seven Seasons (what next – Eugene Ninegin?), because poor Vivaldi has been hung, drawn and quartered. Literally quartered – the extra ‘Seasons’ are actually three interludes, ‘May Day’, ‘Wind and Water’, ‘First Snow’, designed to be played between Vivaldi’s concertos. Composed in 1996 by Finnish violinist Jaakko Kuusisto, the interludes – for string orchestra and harpsichord – are non-programmatic and wholly 20th-century in style (Kuusisto cites Stravinsky and Ravel as influences). Sadly, they are also clichéd, derivative and absolutely superfluous to The Four Seasons.
Insult after injury. Vivaldi’s sonnets have been replaced, without explanation, by four ‘poems’ that bear no resemblance to the originals. A typically mawkish extract from ‘Summer’ runs: ‘A bluewing flies towards / the petals of the sun / weeping all the while / over the brief life of a dragonfly.’ But that’s as close as the disc comes to poetry. The performances of The Four Seasons are utterly prosaic. Réka Szilvay is a technically proficient but inhibited soloist, lacking both exuberance and finesse. The Helsinki Strings are a 50-piece student string orchestra, whose numbers tell against them. Their heavy, inflexible phrasing and hard-driven rhythms overwhelm Vivaldi’s finely etched sound-world.
There’s no single definitive benchmark performance, although Enrico Onofri and Il Giardino Armonico come close. Their brilliantly imaginative and flamboyant set brings Vivaldi’s scene-painting vividly to life – if only their ‘Winter’ Largo rain wasn’t so loud and insistent. Graham Lock