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Vivaldi: The Four Seasons / Kremer, Ledger, ECO


Release Date: 03/11/2008 
Label:  Decca   Catalog #: 001076809  
Composer:  Antonio Vivaldi
Performer:  Gidon Kremer
Conductor:  Sir Philip Ledger
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Chamber Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



VIVALDI Four Seasons Gidon Kremer (vn); cond; English CO DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 073 4415 (DVD: 41: 59)


Gidon Kremer recorded Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with Abbado and the London Symphony Orchestra on February 1 and 2, 1980 (Deutsche Grammophon 2531297, released on CD as 431172) and again in 1998 in the collection, Eight Seasons (with Piazzolla’s Cuatro estaciones Read more porteñas on Nonesuch 79568, which I reviewed in 23:6). The video version that Deutsche Grammophon has made available on DVD comes from 1981 and reveals a young Kremer who seems to be in high spirits, communicating joyfully with the English Chamber Orchestra and holding his personality modestly in check. He supposedly consulted Nicholas Harnoncourt, but except for the dog’s strident bark in the slow movement of “Spring,” and an occasional choppiness, as in the same movement’s zephyrs, he doesn’t adopt either the crunchy textures or the graphic devices that characterize so many performances of these works on period instruments. For example, in the last movement of “Spring,” he forgoes the opportunity, about nine minutes into the movement, to create hair-raising effects (of which he’s certainly capable) with off-the-string bowings (similarly, the storms of “Summer” stop short of rattling the listener’s teeth). And he doesn’t ornament the simple lines of the slow movement of “Summer.” Kremer conducts—or leads—the ensemble, which he faces, from a music stand, complete with music, the pages of which he himself turns (the cameras usually avoid capturing him doing so), a setup that might not create so satisfactory a visual impression in a live performance but one that offers many opportunities to capture both the soloist and the ensemble in one view. In fact, viewers can observe for extended periods more than general features of his technique: his high shoulder rest might obscure the view, but the cameras swirl around him, leaving little to the technical imagination. On the other hand, Kremer darts about, moving in and out of the visual frame as the pieces proceed, so that students of his right-hand and left-hand technique may not always be fully satisfied with the visual record.


In all, Kremer remains Kremer in these pieces, however disinclined he may seem to overpower them with his strong individuality. He plays with enough pressure and force to break lots of bow hairs, as in the finale of “Summer,” and adopts a bracing tempo in the first and last movements of “Autumn,” firing the first salvo of the former in double-stops off the string. If this movement sounds quick and energetic in a very “modern” manner, Kremer also indulges in some slowing and quickening of tempos reminiscent of Claudio Scimone’s performances of Vivaldi with I Solisti Veneti. Neither does Kremer eschew the use of vibrato, noticeable on the long-held notes in the first movement of “Autumn.” If the harpsichord sounds recessed in this concerto, the camera draws attention to exuberant ornamentation in the first movement and tangy rhythmic pulses that take the place of the usual arpeggiations in the slow one. The ice of “Winter” doesn’t sound as brittle as it has often grown in recent performances (I remember the chilling effect the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields created in the paterfamilias of a large family of special effects in that movement); still, it appears that the upper strings play their passages muted while the lower ones play over the fingerboard. And Kremer sets up dramatic dynamic contrasts with his solo passagework—in the last movement he flashes like lightening above the final storm clouds. The rapid patter of raindrops in the slow movement of “Winter” appear to be about the first examples of exaggeration in these relatively straightforward but deft and genial performances.


Those who admire Kremer will want to acquire his version of Vivaldi’s blockbuster; and, in fact, it offers a good alternative to other available versions, surpassing in its unobtrusive eccentricities both the edgier versions—as, for example, that of Nigel Kennedy and the same Orchestra—EMI 92499, which I reviewed in 25:1, and more sedate ones by Anne-Sophie Mutter (Sony DVD 46380) and by Scimone (TDK COFS, which I reviewed in 28:4). Generally recommended as perhaps the best and most durable version available on DVD, notwithstanding Julia Fischer’s excellent performances on Opus Arte 0896. Whatever reason you may have to deprecate the Four Seasons , Kremer’s version won’t become one of them.


FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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DVD-VIDEO NTSC 073 4415 |G|H|
STEREO: PCM / SURROUND: DTS 5.0
Picture Format: 4:3
A production of UNITEL, Munich

Directed by Christopher Nupen.
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Works on This Recording

1.
Concertos (4) for Violin, Op. 8 no 1-4 "Four seasons" by Antonio Vivaldi
Performer:  Gidon Kremer (Violin)
Conductor:  Sir Philip Ledger
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Chamber Orchestra
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1725; Venice, Italy 
2.
Concerto for Violin in E major, Op. 8 no 1/RV 269 "Primavera" by Antonio Vivaldi
Performer:  Gidon Kremer (Violin)
Conductor:  Sir Philip Ledger
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Chamber Orchestra
Period: Baroque 
Written: circa 1725; Venice, Italy 
3.
Concerto for Violin in G minor, Op. 8 no 2/RV 315 "L'estate" by Antonio Vivaldi
Performer:  Gidon Kremer (Violin)
Conductor:  Sir Philip Ledger
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Chamber Orchestra
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1725; Venice, Italy 
4.
Concerto for Violin in F major, Op. 8 no 3/RV 293 "L'autunno" by Antonio Vivaldi
Performer:  Gidon Kremer (Violin)
Conductor:  Sir Philip Ledger
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Chamber Orchestra
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1725; Venice, Italy 
5.
Concerto for Violin in F minor, Op. 8 no 4/RV 297 "L'inverno" by Antonio Vivaldi
Performer:  Gidon Kremer (Violin)
Conductor:  Sir Philip Ledger
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Chamber Orchestra
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1725; Venice, Italy 

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