"The Four Seasons concertos’ immense popularity seems to have spurred Red Priest on to even greater idiosyncrasy. “Spring” opens with improvised birdcalls and the third movement, a rustic dance, includes an enthusiastic whoop from the musicians. “Summer”’s stifling heat is intensified by a barking dog (violin) and the occasional ritard, one deliciously in waltz time, as energy ebbs away. A momentary harpsichord cadenza during the summer storm recalls Rimsky’s bumblebee, while the spirited tempest itself comes and goes in no time flat.
“Autumn” arrives imbued with spirit of the alcoholic kind, as the quartet evokes a village band with aRead more distinctly queasy violin; Bishop’s slides also add a hint of bluegrass. A few bars of God Save the King appear out of the blue in the first movement, perhaps signifying a drunken, spontaneous oath of allegiance. The hunt is graphically portrayed in the finale, which closes once again with a studio fade. Biting staccatos usher in the chill of “Winter,” but the most surprising choice is in the central Largo movement where the violin’s theme is cushioned by a ågentle calypso accompaniment. Astor Piazzolla wrote four tangos inspired by the seasons—they have been arranged for strings and recorded by Gidon Kremer alongside the Vivaldi concertos—but here Red Priest goes one step further and achieves a synthesis.
The straightforward performance on this disc is that of Corelli’s “Christmas” Concerto. No sleigh bells or interpolations of Adeste Fideles, few extreme tempos; instead, the habitual degree of care over balance in the arrangement and unanimity of musicianship. (They cannot resist one special effect: an upward glissando in the final Pastorale to imitate bagpipes.)
While the Vivaldi goes further over the top than its predecessors—maybe even too far: God Save the King!?—I am convinced it does so in a spirit of fun rather than one of mockery or confrontation. The composer might be puzzled by it, but he would be equally puzzled by Bernstein’s version. The Four Seasons is ubiquitous, so if you prefer the last word in authenticity you need not look very far."