VIVALDI Four Seasons – Bell
A big-name violinist, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, John Constable tinkling away on a ten-ton Goble – this Seasons is a bit like returning to old times. Any Vivaldi-lover will have these iconic concertos in their collection already, probably several times over, but the merest glance at the packaging of this one will tell you that it is not aimed at them anyway – my limited-edition copy came with expensive-looking photos, a Joshua Bell calendar, Vivaldi’s sonnets printed on individual seasonally themed cards, and bonus Joshua content available from the internet via the CD.
So what will the “I want a Four Seasons but by somebody I’ve heard of” clientele get for their money? Well, mighty fine playing for certain: Bell has the lightness and quickness of Mercury in passagework, and a smooth and sweet lyricism no less divine in the slower sections. Not a single ugly noise emanates from his instrument, and he is well matched by the ASMF, their sound ample and softly comfortable yet clean and clear. It is doubtful if you will ever hear a more purely beautifully rapt ensemble rendition of the slow movement from Spring, for instance.
What is missing amid all this high-class musicianship is the inventive spark of excitement these pieces can provoke in so many players, especially through its descriptive elements. All right, not everyone has to give themselves over entirely to being dying stags, drunken peasants or barking dogs, but these performances would surely benefit from the greater rhythmic and dynamic flexibility a bit more pictorial imagining could bring. The fill-up is a thoughtful choice, however; Tartini’s Devil’s Trill Sonata, adroitly played with extra-romantic, stratospheric cadenza, as if to Bell the Devil were ne’er a foe.