VIVALDI The Four Seasons.1 GEMINIANI Concerti grossi after Corelli:2 No. 4 in F; No. 12 in d, “La follia” • Christina Day Martinson (vn); Martin Pearlman (hpd);1 dir; Peter Sykes (hpd);2 Boston Baroque (period instruments) • TELARCRead more 80698 (59:26)
Martin Pearlman’s own notes to the Boston Baroque’s performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons suggest that he had wanted to avoid self-conscious differences with other performances. While the readings remain crisp and rhythmically taut in the style of so many historically informed performances, the ensemble doesn’t play tricks with dynamics as does, for example, Il Giardino Armonico or The Venice Baroque Orchestra, or even some performances on modern instruments that have been influenced by them (Gidon Kremer, Anne-Sophie Mutter, or Kyung-Wha Chung), and it doesn’t indulge in timbral experimentation (even though the icy trembling in the opening of “Winter” reinforces a brittle graphic image). But the ornaments in the slow movements, as those of “Spring” or “Summer” (as well as in the slow sections of the first movement of “Autumn”), really do make a noticeable difference, bringing these concertos into conformity with others in period costume, in which the soloists improvise—or at least play—their own graces. That’s not to say that the storm in “Summer” doesn’t blow with gale-wind force; but effects don’t take precedence over the work’s musical values. Christina Day Martinson plays with a strong and somewhat edgy strength, as well as with a rhythmic élan and enthusiasm that energize the fast movements; and she demonstrates abundant fancy in the slow ones. The Boston Baroque sounds a bit astringent at times, though always full-bodied and never wizened. Martin Pearlman plays the harpsichord in The Four Seasons (providing added interest in the slow movement of “Autumn” underneath its unornamented top line); Peter Sykes takes over in Geminiani’s concertos.
Geminiani’s Concertos after Corelli’s Violin Sonatas, op. 5, employ the composer’s fuller concertino group (essentially a string quartet because of the added viola), but the Boston Baroque’s buoyant, lightweight performances don’t reveal a trace of heaviness. The principal chairs of the sections serve as the concertino, so Marilyn McDonald plays whatever violin solos Geminiani preserved from the original sonatas. In fact, Pearlman notes that the performances take advantage of Corelli’s own ornamentation in the slow movements of the Fourth Concerto. I first heard these concertos in performances on LP by Dean Eckertsen and the Accademici di Milano on Vox Box SVBX-538; but, as do Andrew Manze’s imaginative accounts (Harmonia Mundi 907261, 24:1), these create a less stodgy, more vivid impression, even of the concertos themselves (consider the lighthearted drive to the cadence of the last movement of the Fourth Concerto). Corelli’s variations on the familiar Follia provided a violin étude as well as a concert piece for succeeding generations. In its setting for orchestra (and in the Boston Baroque’s performance, perhaps even more than in Andrew Manze’s version) it dresses its purely musical interest as well as its instrumental effectiveness in a class-A uniform; the members of the concertino never lose sight of the work’s virtuosity.
Recordings of The Four Seasons may not be difficult to come by. In fact, they may be difficult not to ignore. But for the brisk and exciting performances of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, with ornamentation in the slow movements that’s both unobtrusive and convincing, for the tantalizingly transparent versions of Geminiani’s reworkings of Corelli’s familiar music, as well as for Telarc’s brightly lit and clear recorded sound, the Boston Baroque’s program of Vivaldi and Corelli deserves a warm commendation.