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Ms. Meyer does the concertos up in a lively and refreshing style
on February 10, 2014
Although Vivaldi wrote hundreds of pieces of music, folks probably recognize him best for The Four Seasons, the little three-movement tone poems with their chirping birds, galumphing horses, barking dogs, dripping icicles, and howling winds. The composer meant them to accompany descriptive sonnets, making up the first four concertos of a longer work he wrote in 1723 titled Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione ("The Contest between Harmony and Invention"). Most people hardly remember the other concertos in the set.
Under Ms. Meyer, the familiar Spring concerto is appropriately cheerful, made even more so due to the violinist not overdoing anything in the piece. You won't find any exaggerated tempos (although hers are quick and spirited in a refined manner); no unusual dynamic contrasts; no extraordinary slowing down or speeding up for dramatic effect. Ms. Meyers keeps everything moving along at a fairly conventional, though stimulating pace. It's probably the way most listeners want their Seasons--enjoyably colorful and invigorating, without being annoyingly different just for the sake of being different. The Largo, with its meadows and fields, sounds properly peaceful, yet it never lags. And the final Allegro capers along cheerfully.
Throughout all of the music, Ms. Meyers's violin sounds exquisitely gorgeous in tone and playing, and Maestro Lockington's accompaniment with the ECO is precise and agreeable.
Summer gets an even more highly characterized reading than Spring, with the season's heat oppressive, the birds chatty, the wind picking up nicely, and the threat of storm just a tad menacing. When the summer storm does arrive, it does so in a whirlwind of energy. Very invigorating.
Ms. Meyer begins Autumn a touch too energetically for my taste, but to each his own. The music soon enough slips away into a fitting, if not altogether traditional-sounding slumber. Then, the closing hunt goes well, if, oddly, a bit less animated than I would have expected.
Winter has always been my favorite segment of the Seasons, with its icicles and frozen landscape, its hurrying to warmth, its delectable Largo by the hearth, and its final hints of ice and chill outside. It's here that Ms. Meyers and company outdo themselves in musical representation. As listeners, we should see and feel these surroundings, and we do.
Coupled with The Four Seasons are Vivaldi's Concerto for Three Violins in F major, RV551, which makes a handy companion piece. What is more out of the way is Arvo Part's Passacaglia, which the composer wrote in 2003 for violin and piano and later arranged for violin and orchestra as we find it here. It's true the music of the Baroque period inspired Part to write the piece, yet it remains a curious choice to complement the Vivaldi. Yet complement the Vivaldi it does, especially as it directly follows his Winter concerto. The two have a surprisingly lot in common, as Ms. Meyers points out in her reading.
Producer Susan Napodano DelGiorno and engineer Phil Rowlands recorded the music for Entertainment One at Henry Wood Hall, London, in 2013. The sound is pretty typical of today's better digital recordings. It's ultraclean and clear, a little bright and forward, with a somewhat glossy sheen on the strings. What appears to be a harpsichord sounds, for reasons unknown, so far in the background it's practically in another room. Ms. Meyers's violin shows up in the foreground, not distractingly forward but close enough to remind us whose show this is. Midrange transparency is OK, as are ambient bloom, frequency extremes, and overall dynamics. Not bad sound and more than adequate for the occasion.
John J. Puccio