INKPOT#46 CLASSICAL MUSIC REVIEWS: VIVALDI The Four Seasons. Accardo/I Solisti Napoli (Philips Solo)

Antonio VIVALDI (1658-1741)
The Four Seasons
Concerto in E major, op.8 no.1 RV269 “La primavera” (Spring)
Concerto in G minor, op.8 no.2 RV315 “L’estate” (Summer)
Concerto in F major, op.8 no.3 RV293 “L’autunno” (Autumn)
Concerto in F minor, op.8 no.4 RV297 “L’inverno” (Winter)
Coupled with…
Concerto for 2 Mandolins, RV532*
Concerto for Mandolin, RV425*
Concerto for 2 Trumpets*
Salvatore Accardo violin
I Solisti Napoli · I Musici*

PHILIPS Classics Solo 442 393
[67’43”] mid priceSonnets not included.

by René Chia

In this performance of The Four Seasons, Spring comes across as a conventional reading with blah (drab, dull, uninteresting – you get the idea) string playing, but with some very original decorations from the harpsichordist, Bruno Canino. Recordings of the Seasons are now just as interesting for the continuo as the soloist. Summer here is a mild one while Autumn is mostly a relaxed affair. Again the harpsichord’s parts are unobtrusive, complementing the soloist perfectly. At best, his embellishments to the score are a delight, while his solo in the middle movement of Autumn is thoughtful and musical. Most astonishingly, at the end of this movement, Canino produces an original reading of the final bars either by plucking the harpsichord strings directly or somehow dampening them. The result is a poetic picture of a dying autumn, heralding the arrival of winter. Yet again in Winter, Canino steals the limelight from the soloist with his ingenious additions to the harpsichord score. Like the lute in the I Musici version, Canino echoes the soloist’s melody in a gorgeous rendition of the “Winter Largo”, except that he does an even better job!

The old full-price issue cover Philips hoped to promote the original full-price issue of this CD (Philips 422 065) by virtue of its soloist’s use of a different Stradivarius violin for each concerto. Salvatore Accardo plays well, but if you are looking for an authentic/period-style performance of the concertos, be warned that this is not one. It is a modern-style performance recorded “live” at the Fifth Cremona Festival in 1987, using a modern instrument orchestra, despite the big label on the old cover proclaiming “Performed on instruments by Antonio Stradivari”… in gold letters. Philips blatantly emphasized this by filling the CD sleeve with notes and photos of the violins, with only a passing reference to Vivaldi or the concertos.

This performance of this Four Seasons is marked by faultless playing at the expense of originality, of which the saving grace is the harpsichordist Bruno Canino, who has just the right touch with lots of creativity thrown in. In response to the comment below, I still find nothing original about Accardo’s solo violin line *as compared* to recent versions. Perhaps for a recording made in 1987, his may be considered an original interpretation, but the interpretation and ornamentation of Baroque music has progressed very far in the last decade, and Accardo’s interpretation can hardly be considered “imaginative” now. Compared to Andrew Manze’s performance with the ABO, Accardo’s “Hunt” is more conservative. Listen to the solo violin episode near the end (before the reprise of the opening theme) of their versions to see what I mean. Another simple comparison can be made with the “Winter Largo”, where the soloist’s interpretation of the melody is completely exposed. Accardo really is completely straight-faced if you compare his version to the delightfully ornamented interpretation by Jeanne Lamon and Tafelmusik. Coincidentally, the two versions I have picked here are both period-instrument versions. And this is not surprising because it is the period schools which were most responsible for reviving interest in innovative interpretation and ornamentation of Baroque music beyond what is written on the score.

This is the CD you might want to get if you wish to own only one well-played, modern-style Four Seasons without much variation from or decoration of the basic orchestral score. Alternatively, if you want a version of the Seasons in order to examine closely the harpsichord’s versatility and potential in the score, you could try this one.

This disc is available at or can be ordered from Tower (Pacific Plaza & Suntec City), HMV (The Heeren), Sing Discs (Raffles City) or Borders (Wheelock Place).

René Chia discovered her “long lost talent” of cubism during a very boring SSO concert. She had totally lost her sense of perspective.

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