Faced with the challenge of competing with the horde of other recordings of Vivaldi's Four Seasons violin concertos on the market, the Boston Baroque under conductor Martin Pearlman, with Canadian-American violinist Christina Day Martinson, succeeds in standing out from the crowd. It may also try to pack too much into works whose appeal depends on a delicate balance between a well-established concerto form and a unique programmatic conception. Pearlman's interpretation falls among those that are heavily affected by the sonnets, perhaps written by Vivaldi himself, that accompanied the published concertos. The sonnets are reproduced in the booklet, and the music ebbs and flows with the texts to such a degree that the music comes to resemble a Romantic program symphony. There is considerable rhythmic freedom. The only comparable version is the modern-instrument recording by Dutch violinist Janine Jansen, which might have inspired this one in some respects. The other striking general feature of the disc is that the violinist heavily ornaments the music in the slow movements, beginning right at the opening material. The "Autumn" concerto, however, with a text directly referring to stillness, is left alone. The lack of symmetry is unsettling, and the use of ornamentation in general is dubious; it is true, as the booklet notes by Pearlman point out, that notated versions of concertos by Corelli and others indicate that ornamentation was used, but the evidence for applying ornamentation here is weak and the results unsatisfying even if Martinson's playing is fluent and attractive. Adducing Bach's keyboard adaptations of Vivaldi in this connection is dubious for several reasons, one being that the keyboard was a new context for music of this kind. And most important of all is that, as Pearlman himself points out, the Four Seasons are sui generis within Vivaldi's oeuvre: he wrote other loosely evocative concertos, but none that were directly programmatic like this. The heated attempts to intensify Vivaldi's musical pictures may ultimately weaken them. All of which is to say that the casual buyer should sample extensively here to make sure of what he or she is getting. The concept is executed well, with sharp ensemble work and very precise articulation as Pearlman devises his detailed musical analogues for the texts of the sonnets. Telarc's multi-channel SACD sound (sampled on a good conventional stereo) is superb. And the music by Geminiani that rounds off the program, with a delightful set of variations on "La Follia," is a strong choice. The main attraction, however, is not going to be everyone's cup of vino.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|The Four Seasons (Il quattro stagione), concertos (4) for violin, strings & continuo ("Il cimento" Nos. 1-4) , Op. 8/1 - 4|
|Concerto Grosso, for 2 violins, viola, cello, strings & continuo No. 4 in F major (after Corelli 5/4)|
Concerto Grosso, for 2 violins, strings & continuo No.12 in D minor ("La Follia"; after Corelli Op. 5/12)