After a groundbreaking recording of the Four Seasons
for Opus 111, in 1992, that made Fabio Biondi one of the leading performers
of Vivaldi's violin music, he returns with a new recording of these
over-recorded works. There are literally hundreds of recordings of the
Four Seasons available; this music is so popular you even hear it in
elevators and airplanes. So, why make another recording? Is it just
that Biondi and Europa Galante have since moved up a level to a major
label, and they, too, need to have their Biondi Four Seasons?
Well, this is certainly possible. But, hold on, this recording goes
far beyond the first recording, which was feted by every superlative
in the thesaurus. There is something in this new set that will awaken
even the most jaded Vivaldi fan. Although not everyone will like it...
The unbridled energy of the fast section of the first
movement of the Summer concerto is a clear sign of the approach taken
by Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante. This is a rock and roll version
of Vivaldi's concertos; almost a punk version, with all the energy of
the Clash hammering out guitar chords and singing about their strife
and anger. This Vivaldi is not the staid music played in symphony subscription
concerts around the world. The third movement of Summer, the presto,
with its machine-gun riffs, faster than a flying bumblebee, cry out
for the listener to rock to the music and get up and dance. I found
it hard to listen to this music sitting down - Biondi's mastery of the
instrument is so exciting, so overwhelming, that I couldn't resist moving
with the music. (It must be quite an experience hearing this performance
live - do people get up and dance? Do the longhairs look at them in
shock?) This movement alone is remarkable for its virtuosity and energy;
it is almost amazing that the orchestra manages to maintain its speed
flawlessly. (Although, one slight drawback in this movement is the stereo
panning effect, at one point, where the lead violin moves from one side
of the stereo space to the other, kind of like Led Zeppelin guitar solos.)
One could hear this energy in an embryonic form in
the first 1992 recording Biondi made of the Four Seasons. But that was
the impetuous energy of unfocused youth; this is the cultivated energy
of experience. Not only is the performance itself far better, and more
refined, but the sound is far cleaner and more limpid. The 1992 recording
sounds like a demo tape in comparison to this version.
Yet Biondi also excels in the lyrical, pastoral passages.
The slow, moving section in the middle of the first movement of Autumn
is played with great feeling, as is the Largo of Spring. Biondi can
shift gears with remarkable alacrity, coaxing smooth sounds from his
instrument as easily as he strikes chords and plays virtuosic riffs.
He seems almost to be sculpting sound with his violin, as if he were
seeking forms rather than melodies. The pallet of sounds he extracts
from his instrument contains colors and tones that other violinists
only dream of.
One interesting aspect of this recording is that the
Four Seasons are played like twelve movements of one long work - the
pauses between the concertos are very brief - giving them a much larger
scope than when considered as four separate works. And, it functions
well. The drama of the performance leads naturally from one concerto
to another, in spite of the changes in key.
What is perhaps most amazing is that there are twelve
concertos on this set. The Four Seasons, of course, are the "title tracks"
that sell the disc. But also the eight other concertos of the collection.
Curiously, only four of these twelve works have attracted attention
over the years, but the remaining eight concertos are far from devoid
of interest. But I won't say any more about the rest; I'll let the listener
discover these gems.
An amazingly dramatic, rock and roll rendition of the
Four Seasons. If you thought this music was boring, you will be in for
a shock. Buy it. And play it loud.