Anne Akiko Meyers does it once again; she takes well known works and breathes new life into them. One such work is Antonio Vivaldi’s Le Quattro Stagioni (The Four Seasons). This is not only part of the main repertoire of many chamber orchestras but parts of it have been heard in movies, soundtracks and outdoor cafés. It begs the question, why another recording? I can think of three reasons – it’s a lovely piece and deserves to be recorded repeatedly and Ms. Meyers, along with David Lockington and the English Chamber Orchestra bring a unique realization to the piece and, finally, in this recording, there is this tone that comes out, from time to time, that is lyrical, haunting and sends an exquisite thrill through you. That is to say, magic occurs.
As a way to illustrate my point, let’s step back and look at a couple of other recordings. A number of years ago, OK many years ago, I was pretty hip on the period music movement. Oh to hear the music played like it was intended! No nasty modern sounds to get in the way. Authentic music! So I was a pretty big fan of Trevor Pinnock and his work with the English Concert, the Boston Camerata and Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music. In many ways, I still am. I am not, however, a period music snob – pianos sound lovely. This period of my life, however, led me to Simon Standage and the English Concert who, under Trevor Pinnock, put out a period-instrument recording of the Four Seasons in the early 80s. This was the only Four Seasons I knew intimately for years. It is well-done, precise and, it seems to me now, a bit cold. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not getting rid of this any time soon; it’s still a great recording, but it no longer represents “The” recording of the Four Seasons.
Fast forward many years later, Joshua Bell, with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, record the Four Seasons in 2008. In many ways, this is a much more traditional recording. It is, in comparison, warm and open, almost lush. Whereas, one sensed slashing bows and flying fingers in Pinnock’s (et al) version, Bell’s suggests fluid arms and rounded movements. It’s a lovely recording, very well played and a great addition to the body of work around the Four Seasons.
So, with Mr. Bell’s recent recording in his equally recent role as director of St. Martins in the Fields, did Ms. Meyers et al, want a little violin smack down match? I think not. Both are clearly great musicians who are able to coax out a lovely intimate sound from wood and string. It’s clear from this recording that a desire to take on this piece was the driving force for the album. Ms. Meyers and the ECO seem to combine precise, rich playing with movements of magic. For me, at least, her playing provides almost painfully beautiful moments. It is this tone, this exquisite thrill, this sense of being shot through with a piercing sound that sets off this version for me. Some places it seems to be most haunting are in the first Spring movement (Allegro) after the initial introduction to Spring (30 second mark) and on; the first Summer movement (Allegro non molto) about 1:54 in the violin begins this playful banter that jumps and runs a couple minutes later but in these more lyrical moments between the runs, it’s amazing. Let the languid summer live.
Of course, this album is more that the Four Seasons. It contains Arvo Pärt’s Passacaglia; a driven piece that mixes well with Vivaldi for a contemporary orchestral work. I love how it ends promising a Spanish guitar concert just around the corner.
Finally, we have Vivaldi’s Concerto for Three Violin. What, you say? A couple of Strads being played by Ms. Meyers on the Bach album was nothing! How about a Guarneri, a couple of Strads and her hand tied behind her back whilst playing Vivaldi! OK, I exaggerate and, nicely enough, this isn’t just some technical exercise showing off some seriously cool violins. This is real music making; playing multiple parts is seamless to the listening ear and a very nice piece in its own right.
The album mesmerizes as Ms. Meyers is at the top of her craft. Brava. One fabulous part of this project is the realization that visualization is important to music. We love youtube, we love to be engaged visually whilst enraptured with music. Joseph Molina has done a great job with Ms. Meyers to see this lived out in this project, especially in her updated site. More about this is available at Molina Visuals. UPDATE: Molina has some examples from the project: Joseph Molina Portfolio