VIVALDI Four Seasons – Alessandrini
I’ve reviewed at least 50 recordings of the Four Seasons but none has sounded such a clear ‘wake up’ call as this one. Such recommendations are usually reserved for the end of a review but, no matter how many you may already have, I waste no time in urging you to add this one to their number. If you have none, go straight for this one.
These are appropriately ‘Italian’ performances but the flanking movements are not hurried – indeed ‘Summer’ begins at an unusually leisurely pace and no season is noticeably hurried to its conclusion. The central movements are taken somewhat more slowly than in other recordings, but so beguilingly that one barely notices it – and never in a pejorative way. What is striking is the sharply defined characterisation of the frisson-making chill of ‘Autumn’ and the furious ‘Summer’ storm that sends the mind running for imaginary cover.
In a unique display of their strength in depth, Concerto Italiano assign a different soloist to each concerto. Their approaches to embellishment are both personal and refreshingly free from clichés. The most ‘up-front’ is Francesca Vicari, who enthusiastically applies it also to the final movement of ‘Winter’ (where others have not ventured to tread) with a controlled ferocity that keeps you on the edge of your seat. The knife-edge unanimity of attack, tone and dynamics of the 14 members of Concerto Italiano is remarkable, and the recording per se is crystal clear, luculent and perfectly balanced. They do not merely play the score, they live it. Some may regard the performances as ‘theatrical’ and so they are, but they are acted with total commitment and in good style and taste – and why not? The script exists!
The Four Seasons alone do not add up to a well-filled disc but there is a bonus CD, a showcase sampler with tracks from existing recordings and others not previously issued – Alessandro Scarlatti, Bach and Vivaldi, his Op 3 No 11 Concerto grosso. Concerto Italiano’s high reputation has rested on their recordings of Baroque music (instrumental and vocal) but the final tracks of Rossini signal their rewarding venture into pastures new. If these two discs are not among this critic’s choice for 2003 you are entitled to ask why.