Notes and Editorial Reviews
In celebration of the 20th anniversary of Nigel Kennedy’s landmark recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, EMI Classics presents the 20th Anniversary Luxury Edition. The set includes the original recording, award winning film, images not previously issued, memorabilia and a specially written account of the unfolding event.
Nigel Kennedy’s recording was released 25 September 1989 on vinyl, cassette and CD and went on to become the biggest selling classical album in the illustrious history of EMI. Originally recorded in November 1986 in the Church of St John-at-Hackney, London, it was a recording that would achieve unprecedented public and media attention and change the course of music history. It wasn’t until March 1989, after
the slow movements had been recorded, that the master was completed. Vivaldi’s work, 12 movements in short three-minute bursts, was tailor-made for commercial radio. It was the first time that commercial pop marketing techniques had been used in the classical world and the first time that Nigel was unleashed on the media.
The album went on to:
> sell over 2 million copies around the world
> top the UK Classical chart for over a year
> reach number 3 in the UK Pop Album Chart and enter the Guinness Book of Records as the bestselling classical recording ever
At one point, Nigel was selling more records a week than the combined total of the other 19 records in the UK Classical Sales Chart.
The public loved Nigel’s sheer energy, his flair, his youth, his strength and his determination. Audiences were sitting on the edge of their seat when he played. You were “monster” or “monstrette”, music was “damage” and, when he said “kill”, he meant it…musically, of course.
It started with the Prince’s Trust concert in the summer of 1989, attended by Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Nigel played the final movement of Summer, with the CBSO, conducted by Sir George Martin. After the performance, BBC Radio 1 presenter, Annie Nightingale, presented Nigel to the attending Royals and asked if Nigel should teach William and Harry violin. Diana smiled. “I wouldn’t let you within a million miles of them”. Nigel, unperturbed, replied, “shocking, your Royal Monstrette”.
Nigel went on to appear on countless high profile BBC radio and TV programmes in the build up to release, notably with Terry Wogan and Gloria Hunniford, and their enthusiastic support provided that all-important platform for Nigel, the entertainer. As in concert, TV showed Nigel to be the Charlie Chaplin of the violin, the cheeky chappie, the tramp with a heart of gold and a profound and natural talent to communicate via his music with a skill rarely seen in classical music.
The album shot to No.1 in the UK classical chart but, more importantly it punctured the Top 75 pop album chart. Typically for an international classical artist of his stature, Nigel was obliged to fulfil a concert tour of the USA, booked two years previously. The artist was out of the country and EMI needed to support the album in his absence. Manager, John Stanley and famed producer, Chips Chipperfield, contacted director, Geoff Wonfor, and the innovative, award winning film was made. Its TV broadcast in the Christmas break catapulted the album to the top end of the album charts.
Within weeks, Nigel and his Four Seasons could be heard and seen everywhere. It was reported that a copy was bought every 30 seconds of every day. A sell-out UK Four Seasons tour gave audiences the first chance to see Nigel, accompanied by the English Chamber Orchestra, in person. These were no ordinary classical concerts. Here, the virtuoso spoke to his audiences - younger and more diverse than usual - and genuinely engaged them every step of the way.
Such was Nigel’s hold on the UK market, he was invited twice to appear on The Royal Variety Show, honoured by Spitting Image, lampooned by comic impersonator Bobby Davro, became the subject of “This Is Your Life” and named TV Personality of the Year.
Nigel’s mixture of genius, cheek, novelty, energy and fun translated abroad. He bucked the system. No conservatoire could take away his unique charm and individuality. Sometimes juvenile, even stubborn and difficult, he was always engaging and challenging. He saw no boundaries in life just as in his music making. Through Nigel, the enjoyment of classical music became the domain of all, not just the elite.
1989 saw a world in a state of flux. The Berlin Wall came down, Emperor Hirohito died after 62 years of his reign in Japan, George Bush Senior succeeded Ronald Reagan as the 41st President of the United States and the Chinese government declared martial law in Beijing amidst the Tiananmen Square protests. In June, Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini died but it was the death of Herbert von Karajan that not only shook the classical music world but symbolised the change from the world of Maestro to that of Mega-Star. The classical music world had no idea what was about to hit it. Pundits had predicted a major classical music boom, courtesy of the revolutionary new digital sound carrier, the compact disc, but no-one could foresee an album of 18th Century music threatening to make Number 1 in the pop album chart.
“Floppy hair for the 1984 Elgar Concerto sessions, spikey and gelled for Vivaldi some years later. The trademark yee-haw footstamp, already part of Nigel's Vivaldi roadshow was, however, yet to make its recorded debut - for which the engineer Mike Clements and I breathed a soft prayer of thanks. Nevertheless there were fireworks. At Nigel's request, we returned to the un-soundproofed St John-at-Hackney one evening some months after the original sessions to record his new thoughts on the slow movements, and industrial-strength bangers and catherine wheels in a nearby park vied with Nigel's sul ponticello and distant dive-bomber effects. We just about managed to work around the firework noises, though one got under the wire to achieve everlasting life on the finished disc. Since then, radical takes on Vivaldi's hardy perenniel have hit us from all sides. But Nigel's new look was among the first. Like it or loathe it, the cobwebs didn't know what had hit them. Wish I'd thought to bid for a producer's royalty”.
– Andrew Keener, producer
Works on This Recording
Be the first to review this title