VIVALDI: The Trial between Harmony and Invention, Op. 8 – The Avison Ensemble/ Pavlo Beznosiuk, violin and director – Linn multichannel SACD (2 discs), 114:10 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
The Four Seasons. The Four Seasons. The Four Seasons. Is there anyone in the world who hasn’t at least heard of The Four Seasons? Its extreme popularity, the plethora of recordings, and its presence on a multitude of commercials and background scores to movies—its title even graced an Alan Alda film—make it most likely the best known piece of classical music in the world, and possibly the best known piece of music, period. It has been played on violin, flute, koto, sax quartet, trumpet, you name it, with versions ranging from full orchestra to string quartet. It sometimes uses one soloist, as on this recording, or four soloists (as on the Hogwood recording). It has been electronically reproduced and even has a choral version. The public fascination with this piece is simply amazing.
And I love it too. It endlessly entertains and sounds fresh as a daisy over and over. But it is only part of the story. Though it does contain a sonnet probably written by the composer himself (complete with cue marks in the score) in the style of John Milton, and is intended as a four-concerto unit, it is also the tip of a much larger iceberg called The Trial between Harmony and Invention, a series of twelve concertos that begins with The Four Seasons. Often the other concertos get overlooked when in fact several of them are the Season’s equals, like the invigorating No. 5, The Storm at Sea. Two others retain titles as well: No. 6, “Pleasure”, and No. 10, “The Hunt”. The set also has one oboe concerto as well, though most often all are played on the violin. Each of these works is a beautiful composition and all are worthy of a devoted Vivaldi lover’s attention.
The 13-member Avison Ensemble uses a middle-of-the-road approach not especially period instrument oriented like some others I am familiar with, that take rapid-fire tempos that border on the ludicrous and are so aggressively vigorous one is hard pressed to wonder where Vivaldi’s poetry disappeared to. These in fact have the musical feeling of older, perhaps somewhat wiser (in many ways) takes on the music that emphasize the music first and mechanics second. Pavlo Beznosiuk is a fine player that offers a sincere take on these works, and looks back more to the violinists of the last century than to what is currently period doctrine. I found his recent readings of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas similarly done is this vein, with consequent plusses and minuses. These readings are slightly in the neutral zone, powerfully played but not as incisive and propulsive as say, the old Pinchas Zukerman recording on Sony Essential Classics, still one of the best out there.
Linn seems to favor a relatively resonant acoustic, and while I did not appreciate this on the Bach album it works much better here. I still prefer Lara St. John’s recent SACD recording on Ancalagon as best of breed, but as a Super Audio recording this one sits very well and is competitive with 95% of the others out there. Nicely done!
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