Notes and Editorial Reviews
Concerto for 2 Violins,
The Four Seasons.
Nigel Kennedy (vn), cond; Jakub Haula (vn);
EMI 65908 (DVD: 83: 54)
For those who don’t like the kind of thing Nigel Kennedy
typically does, this is exactly the kind of thing they don’t like. It’s more an event than a concert and surely more a stage show than a musicological disquisition. In Vivaldi’s Concerto for 2 Violins, for example, a sudden cadenza for guitar springs up near the end. Of course, purists might note that not altogether dissimilar solos seemed to bubble up suddenly and unexpectedly from the textures of Torelli’s Concertos. Whether these seemingly improvised detours be deemed fetid excrescences or inspired excursions, they should ultimately prove entertaining to those who can ratchet up their expectations for such things. The textures throughout seem to mimic the sounds of biting into super-crunch bars with broken teeth. Even the zephyrs in Vivaldi’s “Spring,” for example, waft with strong accents, and the dogs in the slow movement bark with a ferocity that would make Rin Tin Tin cower. In the finale, the orchestra accompanies the solo’s flights merely tapping the strings with their bows—and they give a rousing shout here and there. No, come to think of it, purists probably won’t actually be able to ratchet their expectations high (or low?) enough to reach this level of textural audacity. The first movement of “Summer” continues with rhythmic accents hurled like javelins at the audience—accents that, while they remain on the angelic side of the Red Priest, nevertheless surely won’t please everybody. It’s likely, though, that Kennedy doesn’t intend to (he must know that the staid Rollo of Charles Ives’s essays won’t like them), although it doesn’t seem really likely either that he paid his audience to cheer as wildly as they do. Kennedy interacts with members of the orchestra—as well as members of the audience—individually, in the first movement of Autumn as throughout, creating a genial camaraderie that the audience at La Citadelle could sense—and to which they could respond. An improvised cadenza, similar to the ones Kennedy often inserts between movements, but more exploratory, leads to “Autumn”’s finale (he adds an equally bold one in “Winter”). The concert ends with a cheeky “Tribute to Jimi Hendrix” (which begins like a formerly undiscovered movement from Stravinsky’s
Histoire du Soldat
) and a “Traditional Irish Gig.”
Kennedy’s fans, apparently more numerous than, say, Milstein’s, should already have experienced his earlier video of Vivaldi’s
, released on EMI DVD as 7243 4 92499 9 8 (25:1). This one’s either more outrageous or more inspired, depending on the listener’s point of view. But to be sure, after decades of playing the
, Kennedy might to be allowed to experiment a bit. Okay, more than a bit. Okay, okay, a lot more than a bit—a very lot more. Yet his version doesn’t leap so far beyond the style of the most explosive versions of period-instrument devotees than those performances leapt beyond those of staid, sweet-toned Italian counterparts from the 1950s and 1960s. If it doesn’t represent unbroken continuity, this performance isn’t exactly a topic for the application of mathematical catastrophe theory, either.
The recorded sound matches the textures’ crispness. Those who feel that typical concerts do little to recreate the actual excitement of earlier periods, despite their impeccably scholarly underpinnings, might consider watching Kennedy play to his audiences, not just in front of them. Others will surely be as repelled as critics of stagnation will be gratified (if classical music’s going to go out, they might contend, it should be with a bang, not a whimper). Me, I’d swallow it whole: it’s infectious and highly entertaining. (Remember that Vivaldi’s contemporary, Johann Friedrich Uffenbach, found Vivaldi’s own technical feats more astonishing than pleasurable.) Strongly recommended, with equally strong caveats.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix
Nigel Kennedy (Violin)
Polish Chamber Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1967; USA
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