VIVALDI: The Four Seasons; JEAN-FERY REBEL: The Elements – Midori Seiler, violin/ Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin – Harmonia mundi 902061, 65:21 **:

Rebel was a man concerned with the idea of combining dance and music in the ballet-mad Parisian environment that he was accustomed. As such his Elements has a descriptive nature and rhythmic buoyancy that lends itself to all sorts of interpretative movements on the stage. The music itself, starting with the opening where all of the notes of a D-minor chord are played must have scandalized some of the first audiences, even though the movement is clearly marked “Chaos”. The rest of this suite is typically Baroque, bouncy and airy with lots of clever tunes and high entertainment value. It is played with appeal and technical finesse by the member of the Berlin Academy.

The Vivaldi is another matter. Though the notes indicate that these performances were studio recorded, they are based on the performances of this and the Rebel which were done with a dancer, and that experience influenced the recording. My how things have changed—nowhere in the score are there indications for such massive use of portamento, slapping bows, and other extraneous noises. Yet Baroque period practice has now evolved into the idea of an “anything goes” routine in terms of interpretation as long as the music is played on period instruments. How odd. It’s not that this group can’t play the Four Seasons, or that soloist Seiler has trouble with the part—far from it. But this reading has to be one of the most non-musical I have heard. Vivaldi uses the poetic effects in a musical manner, and doesn’t hit us over the head with it; this recording slams us. The first movement of the “Fall” concerto the soloist sounds like a half-starved whining cat with all of her short bent notes, I kid you not. All sorts of uninspired crescendos and decrescendos mark this piece, with a flurry of different bow strokes and noises. Who gave anyone permission to treat Vivaldi like this? If you need the Rebel, I would go for Reinhard Goebel and Musica Antiqua Köln on Archiv. And stick with Lara St. John on Ancalogon in Super Audio for the Seasons, along with a host of others. This one is decidedly not recommended. [This is the audio-only version of the DVD we reviewed earlier…Ed.]

— Steven Ritter