WORKS: The Four Seasons
PERFORMER: Trondheim Soloists/Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin)
CATALOGUE NO: 463 259-2
This is a very disconcerting CD. When Mutter recorded The Four Seasons with Karajan in the mid-Eighties, the main objection was to the well-upholstered sound, which harked back to the days before the leaner style of period instruments. Here, the textures are all much cleaner; Mutter has clearly thought about where she is going to apply which sort of vibrato, but she pulls the tempi around something rotten.
‘Spring’ is one of the worst offenders, with its fractionally held back initial upbeat, and tempo changes at every corner. This music doesn’t have to be played with metronomic rigidity, but the last movement is in no way a dance. The first movement of ‘Summer’ fares better, as the contrasts of tempo and dynamic are built into the music, but even so they are too extreme for this pleasant but slight music. Mutter would disagree: in the liner notes, which are in the form of a rather twee conversation between her and writer Harald Wieser, she describes The Four Seasons as ‘a unique celebration of life, a veritable riot of colour. It takes a sensitive violinist to bring out this riot of colour in the form of a tone-painting.’ I question whether what we are hearing is sensitivity, or the grafting of a self-centred Romantic aesthetic onto a gentler 18th-century sensibility. Infinitely preferable is the no less gutsy but more coherent approach of Andrew Manze and Ton Koopman on original instruments. Martin Cotton