recent concerto recordings seem to have concentrated on contemporary
music with disc of solo works by Tan-Dun, Yi and Christopher
Rouse. There does seem to be an element of personal preference
in this, rather than just the vagaries of the recording process.
Cho-Liang Lin has recorded many of the great classics, even
if his recordings have had a tendency to drop out of the catalogue.
So it is perhaps not surprising to find him headlining this
new recording of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons from Naxos.
presented with a disc such as this, there is a tendency for
the reviewer to wonder whether we need yet another recording
of such a commonly occurring work. But inevitably Cho-Liang
Lin, like most performers, would wish to lay down for posterity
his own version of this iconic work.
His companions are Sejong and the harpsichordist
Anthony Newman. Sejong (previously known as the International
Sejong Soloists) is a string ensemble formed in 1995 in New
York. It consists of a group of some sixteen highly talented
string virtuosi, some playing on instruments such as Guarneri
del Gesu and Stradivarius violins. On this disc Cho-Liang Lin
plays on the 1715 Stradivari “Titian”.
the very opening notes of Concerto No. 1, “La Primavera”, the
performers demonstrate their credentials. Playing is crisp and
highly articulated with a brilliance and edge that is almost
diamond hard. The string sound is vivid but in the faster sections
has a tendency to aggressiveness. There are no doubts, however,
that this is a virtuoso ensemble. Speeds are relatively swift,
but in the slower movements the performers allow the music time
to register and don’t skate over things.
regards the soloist, Cho-Liang Lin is a highly efficient performer,
giving a virtuoso performance that is well articulated and quite
impressive. Unfortunately I found that his playing also seemed
lack warmth and seemed rather unlovable.
Chung’s 2001 recording and Mutter’s 1999 are the two most recent
contenders as far as modern instrument recordings of The
Four Seasons are concerned.
In his Gramophone review of Chung’s recording, Edward Greenfield
commended the performance for its warmth and the feeling of
music-making between friends. It is this warmth and friendliness
that I missed. Both soloist and ensemble seem to be concerned
with the technique required to produce the necessary virtuoso
along the way warmth and fantasy seem to have been lost. Also,
I did not feel a strong sense of story telling. Surely the popularity
of these works is not just on account of their tuneful but because
each concerto has a recognisable story line.
their credit, Cho-Liang Lin and Sejong fill the remainder of
the disc with the other two named concertos from Vivaldi’s Op.
8 set, La tempesta di mare and Il piacere. These works are less recorded and it is delightful
to have them on this disc. It is probably my imagination but
I felt that the performances audibly relaxed as soon as La
tempesta di mare started.
As if the performers were able to enjoy themselves in the lesser
known works where the pressure of expectation would be less.
am unclear who directed these performances and perhaps that
was the problem, not every virtuoso has the personality required
to impose himself or herself as the director of a performance.
And Anthony Newman is credited simply as harpsichordist. Perhaps
the recording would have had more character if a single conductor
had been in charge.
curiosity is that Newman plays continuo on harpsichord and organ.
Period practice seems a world away on these discs but I feel
that the organ sounds wrong against the strings. As is often
the case with modern instrument recordings of baroque music,
the harpsichord sounds rather underpowered.
time is a little short and I did wonder whether the group could
have given us a further concerto from Vivaldi’s Op. 8.
you are looking for a bargain version of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, then you need look no further than this disc. Here are efficient, well
played virtuoso performances with two extra concertos thrown
in. But if you are looking for love, warmth and a feeling of
friendly communal music making, then look elsewhere.
see also Review
by Gary Higginson