VIVALDI The Four Seasons

Concerto for 2 violins RV522
Concerto for 2 violins RV511
Nigel Kennedy (violin)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

EMI 7243 5 57647 20
TPT: 1:01:45

   reviewed by Neville Cohn 

Yet another recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons? Is not the catalogue overburdened with versions of this well-worn work? Is there a good reason for yet another recording coming on to the market? These are some of the questions that even the most die-hard Vivaldi enthusiasts might be asking themselves. Is there anything about this umpteenth version that makes the effort and cost to produce it worthwhile?

Yes! Very much so.

Why? One has only to listen to the opening measures of the work to realise that there IS a special factor at play (no pun intended) here. This account put me in mind of a recital by Ivo Pogorelich that I attended a good many years ago. It was a program of standard keyboard master works – a French Suite by Bach, a sonata by Beethoven and a bracket of Chopin pieces.

Just before that recital began, I asked myself the same questions I’ve just posed about Kennedy’s recording. Was this going to be yet another routinely professional, polished effort – or would it be something to write home about. It was – and for much the same reason that makes Nigel Kennedy’s Four Seasons so compellingly listenable.

After Pogorelich’s recital, I resorted to a botanical analogy, as I do here. Consider a flower, say, a rosebud. It is instantly recognisable as such. .Now, imagine an intensely bright shaft of light shining upwards from the base of the bud. Instantly, we will see the contours of unopened petals within the bud and the traceries of its venous system as well as the stamen at its heart, ALL invisible to the naked eye until the light was projected through the bud.

Now, the bud has not in any way altered. It is still the same bud. But, because of the very bright shaft of light projected through it, our understanding – and appreciation – of the bud has broadened and deepened.

As with Pogorelich, so with Kennedy. Without resorting to gimmickry or playing to the gallery, the performance, like the light through the bud, gives us a more intimate understanding of the music, it draws us into the heart of the music, giving us a greater appreciation of its worth. And that is far harder to do than one might imagine. It calls for absolute control of the instrument, a profound understanding of style – and an ability to reveal (as does the shaft of light) – the inner essence of the music. Kennedy achieves this to superb effect. It is this that elevates his reading of the Four Seasons to a very high category of excellence. In this recording, as if drawing inspiration from their soloist and director, the strings of the BPO play with a vitality and style that do them – and their great soloist – proud. In the two concertos for two violins, Kennedy is joined by an on-form Daniel Stabrawa.

The sound engineers have done a superb job with wraparound corporate tone that makes one feel as if we are listening from a seat within the orchestra. It gives a marvellous immediacy to the presentation. In the finale of the concerto RV522, the rich, grainy tone, rhythmic bite and concentrated energy that inform even the meanest phrase, makes for electrifying listening. Highly recommended.

© November 2003

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