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Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741): "The 4 Seasons"

Dan Laurin, recordera
Arte dei Suonatori

rec: October 2005, Goscikowo-Paradyž, Church of the High Catholic Seminary
BIS - SACD-1605 (© 2006) (65'40")

Concerto for strings and bc in D (RV 124) [06:20] Concerto for recorder, strings and bc in G (RV 437)* [08:15] Concerto for recorder, strings and bc in c minor (RV 441)* [10:16] Concerto for violin, strings and bc in E, op. 8,1 'La Primavera' (RV 269)* [09:35] Concerto for violin, strings and bc in g minor, op. 8,2 'L'Estate' (RV 315)* [10:49] Concerto for violin, strings and bc in F, op. 8,3 'L'Autunno' (RV 293)* [10:12] Concerto for violin, strings and bc in f minor, op. 8,4 'L'Inverno' (RV 297)* [08:40]

Vivaldi's four concertos with the title Le Quattro Stagioni (The Four Seasons) belong to the most popular and most frequently performed and recorded works of the baroque era. Part of their charm is, of course, their descriptive character, which is revealed in four sonnets, assumed to be written by Vivaldi himself. "The first modern reading of the relationship between the sonnets and the music appeared, in my view, in the recording by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Concentus Musicus Wien", Dan Laurin writes in the booklet. "The result was a revelation and all subsequent interpretations are deeply indebted to it." But: "One result of Harnoncourt's daring musical gestures was that the work's aesthetic has dissolved in all the attempts to be even more spectacular than the preceding recording, as though the performers had forgotten that the most elaborate baroque façade is supported by perfect organization and symmetry."

This recording doesn't want to be "more spectacular" than others. But one wonders what is the reasoning behind it. Why should these four concertos, written for violin, strings and basso continuo, be performed with a recorder as a solo instrument? One may assume it is just that Dan Laurin wanted to play them, and he happens to be a recorder player. For any player of this particular instrument it must be very frustrating that the repertoire for his instrument isn't very large, and that a considerable part of what recorder players use to play is in fact written for other instruments. For instance, sonatas by Italian composers of the early 17th century – like Fontana or Castello –, which recorder players love to perform, were actually written for the violin.

It's not that the oeuvre of Vivaldi is really short of music for the recorder. There are some concertos – one of which is included here (RV 441) – and there are some works where the choice for the recorder or the transverse flute is left to the performer, like RV 437, which has also been recorded on this disc. And there are other pieces where the recorder is one of the solo instruments. But nothing is comparable with the concertos Vivaldi composed for his own instrument, the violin. It is perhaps the virtuosic and often exuberant character of these compositions which create the envy of a recorder player like Dan Laurin.

Composers in the baroque era often left the choice of the instruments to the performer. Sometimes that is even the case when a specific instrument is mentioned. The fact that a sonata is written "for violin and bc" doesn't necessarily exclude the performance on another instrument. Much depends on whether the result sounds well and does enough justice to the intentions of the composer.

It seems to me Le Quattro Stagioni are the kind of works whose solo parts are so violinistic that one would think it being impossible to replace the violin with any other instrument. That was my view when I started to listen to this recording anyway. And I am still thinking that the full character of these concertos can only be revealed by a performance with a violin in the solo part. It is not just the solo violin which is expressing Vivaldi's ideas: often it is fully integrated in the ensemble, and in particular here the use of a different type of instrument is unsatisfying, for example the first movement of Spring and the last movements of Autumn and Winter. In addition, the recorder has less dynamic capabilities and a more limited range of colours than the violin. The fact that Laurin uses about four different recorders is perhaps as indication of the difficulties trying to realise what the score asks for.

Having said that I am quite impressed by Dan Laurin performances. He is not only a very virtuosic player but also a creative mind who exploits the possibilities of the recorder in order to give a fairly good expression of Vivaldi's intentions. But as the recorder isn't able to emulate what the violin can achieve the fairest description of this performance is 're-creation' rather than 'interpretation'. I have enjoyed it, not only because of the standard of the 're-creation', but also because of the splendid performances by Dan Laurin and Arte dei Suonatori.

The remaining pieces are played as they were composed. In the booklet Dan Laurin gives interesting descriptions of the compositions on this disc, taking into account the importance of 'rhetorics' in baroque aesthetics. It helps to understand why the music on this disc is played in a particular way. Very illuminating is how Laurin explains the contrasts in the Concerto in c minor (RV 441) between the passages in which the recorder is supported by the strings and those with basso continuo only. These contrasts mainly concern the treatment of rhythm, and they are very well worked out here.

Those who are looking for a good 'interpretation' of Vivaldi's Four Seasons should look elsewhere. But those who already have one or more interpretations and are open to another look at these concertos should try this one.

Johan van Veen (© 2008)

Relevant links:

Dan Laurin
Arte dei Suonatori

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