Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (CD review)

Also, Concertos for two violins, strings, and continuo. Nigel Kennedy, Berlin Philharmonic. EMI 7243 5 57666-0-1.

Quoting from a booklet note, “No living musician has done more to revitalize Antonio Vivaldi’s status than Nigel Kennedy--who has brought unimaginable sales of his work to every corner of the world.” Certainly, Mr. Kennedy sold a lot of CD’s of his earlier Four Seasons, but to hear the PR department talk, you’d think nobody else had ever recorded the piece. It is this kind of hyperbole that permeates the entire album.

Where before he had the English Chamber Orchestra to accompany him, Kennedy this time had members of the Berlin Philharmonic behind him, and apparently starting with this Four Seasons from 2004 they intended to record as much Vivaldi as the public could stand. However, I guess it was such a daunting enterprise, the public soon found itself exhausted with Vivaldi overload, and to my knowledge Kennedy and the Berlin players produced only one other Vivaldi album, called Vivaldi II.

In any case, Kennedy is a magnificent violinist with a bravura talent, which, unfortunately, sometimes gets in the way of the music. Listeners to these Four Seasons interpretations will find them either delightfully fanciful and innovative or annoyingly self-conscious. I’m afraid I’m in the latter group.  Kennedy invests each movement with so many subjective trills and frills and stops and changes of tempo that one feels the head spinning. Some of it, frankly, is just plain bizarre.

I rather expect Kennedy approaches his music here in the same way he approaches his status as a classical superstar, with the idea that image is everything. He appears to glory in his own reflection of the common, if nonconformist, man, complete with the once-curious haircut, facial stubble, working-class clothing, and London East-End dialect; and it is this brazen, nonconformist attitude that he brings to The Four Seasons. The thing is, the music, so quaint and expressive in its own right, doesn’t need further doctoring up. Well, maybe it did wonders for Kennedy’s disc sales, I don’t know.

More impressive to my mind are the fillers, Vivaldi’s Concertos for Two Violins in A minor and in D. Perhaps because people know them less well, whatever Kennedy does with them is less noticeable. They are quite vivacious in his hands, splendidly alive, although again somewhat quirky in matters of tempo and tone. As an extra incentive, at the time I first reviewed this recording, EMI offered the music in a two-disc set, the second disc being a seventeen-minute promo on DVD. Here the narrator again tells us how much Kennedy has done to revitalize the Vivaldi movement worldwide, and Mr. Kennedy himself expounds upon Vivaldi’s music and plays excerpts from the CD.

EMI’s sound does not strike me as among their best, it being a bit on the bright, hard, almost edgy side, with little compensating bass response to balance out the affair. There is not much depth to the sonic image, either, and, indeed, it’s hard to tell exactly how many Berlin Philharmonic players are attending the soloist. The result is not so much realistic or natural as it is theatrical.

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

JJP

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, as of right now it comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio High Current preamplifier, AVA FET Valve 550hc or Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa