This could almost be termed "the artists formerly in the stable of Sony Classical"; Cho Liang-Lin, known for his Sibelius, Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Bach concerti and his work with Tan Dun and Anthony Newman, is a CBS veteran from the '60s who used to be known for his freaked-out Bach and mastery of multiple keyboard instruments. Put them together with "the artists formerly known as the International Sejong Soloists" and you have Naxos' 2006 model Vivaldi: The Four Seasons, the sixth recording of the work to appear in its catalog. Apart from his award-winning recording of the Rouse Violin Concerto on Ondine, it has been awhile since we have heard from Lin, whose final outing for Sony was in 1996; he was one of the "wave" of Asian artists who began to distinguish CBS Masterworks' roster in its final decade. Newman has somewhat moderated his style since the swinging '60s, but has never truly become a stranger to recording, working steadily for all kinds of labels in years since, not to mention producing. What is unusual is that both artists are recording for Naxos, and as the long-established "major" classical labels begin to withdraw from the scene, the so-called budget label is increasingly able to draw from a higher profile talent pool -- good for them!
The problem with this Four Seasons is there isn't anything about it that sets it apart from the more than 100 others already on the market. Lin plays with his usual sweetness and passion and occasionally breaks out of the tempo in solo passages. One devoted to Lin's playing might imagine this as the result of his increased involvement with the music, but to others it might sound like he's merely breaking out of the tempo. The Sejong musicians wait patiently for Lin in such instances; they are decidedly well rehearsed in this music, to such extent that when a bow whacks into the side of a fingerboard by chance, it's an event. On the other hand, it seems dutiful and rigid, particularly in music where flexibility, of late, has become the rule rather than the exception. Late twentieth century performance practice has witnessed many willful indiscretions in the name of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, but also a great many improvements in terms of characterization and ensemble dynamics. This sounds like a Four Seasons that might have been recorded in the 1980s, with predictable tempo choices and relatively even dynamics, neither recidivistically Baroque nor unfashionably Romantic, just kind of "there." Naxos' 2006 Vivaldi: The Four Seasons is hard to recommend in the face of the wealth of great recordings there already are for this work, but Lin has many adherents, and they may find value in the performance that are not readily apparent. One might imagine that sitting in the Church of the Holy Trinity in New York and listening to Lin, Sejong, and Newman play this in person would be thrilling and fun, whereas Naxos' recording is simply not quite the same thing; it is a bit distant and has no spark.