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“Vivaldi: The Four Seasons”
Antonio Vivaldi: Concertos for Violin, Strings and Basso continuo “Le quattro stagioni”, opus 8
Traditional: El cant dels ocells (arr. M. Spindler)
Lili Boulanger: Nocturne (arr. M. Spindler)
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: The Seasons, opus 37a: 10. “October (Autumn Song)” (arr. M. Spindler)

Luka Faulisi (violin), {oh!} Orkiestra Historyczna, Martyna Pastuszka (conductor)
Recording: Cavatina Hall, Bielsko-Biala, Poland (May 4‑6, 2023) – 45’06
Sony Classical GO1000511832OU A– Booklet in English, French and German

It’s been years since I heard Vivaldi’s ubiquitous Four Seasons all the way through. I am not enamored of the Italian Baroque idiom to begin with—a little too much reliance on melodic arpeggios and virtuosic passagework for my liking—and when I am in the mood for a Baroque blockbuster, I am most likely to turn to Handel’s Water Music, where the sheer melodic generosity and variety feels at once buoyant and poignant. I hadn’t heard of twenty-one-year-old violinst Luka Faulisi, but a press release’s suggestion that he brings a “romantic sound” to Vivaldi caught my interest.

What one hears from Faulisi on this recording, in fact, is a modern instrument played mostly in an “early music” style, at times with an extremely rough tone, as at the start of the finale of “Winter”. Such moments must represent a choice; however, because for the most part, his sound is impressively warm, even sweet, without a hint of the so-called white tone sometimes associated with a complete lack of vibrato. Indeed, Faulisi is a player of great control and attention to detail.

The orchestra, not surprisingly, is a period-instrument band, creating a contrast that, while extremely subtle, perhaps brings an extra touch of spice to the proceedings. It is a fine ensemble, although not completely without the liabilities of its type: tone and ensemble tend to thin out, sometimes to the point of inaudibility, at the lowest dynamic levels. (Surely, the point of a pianissimo in most cases is contrast, which requires that we hear it clearly.) But, otherwise, there is a pleasing fullness, with a very present double bass sound. Conductor Martyna Pastuszka gets plenty of vivacity (although this is probably a small enough ensemble to share the credit for that) and lots of effective and well-controlled dynamic contrasts, in keeping with Faulisi’s approach to the solo part.

With that being said, what, I wonder, constitutes a Romantic approach to this music beyond the technicalities of playing style. The score contains its share of lyricism and drama, but it does not obviously exploit the vocal character of the violin as much as it might, and is generally at its most individual in its representationalism, which can come off as rather simplistic to ears accustomed to the tone painting of, say, a Wagner. The greatest challenge is, perhaps, not to realize the music perfectly on its own terms, but to infuse it with a weight and variety of expression to elevate its appeal above charm. The present recording doesn’t really attempt the latter, to my ears; that would have made for a bold move in an age in which Baroque performance seems confined to stylistic parameters. While not unreasonable, it seems too narrow to justify a deluge of alternate recordings of familiar pieces, and this sometimes out of, I think, an unreasonable fear of how a performer’s imagination can enhance the effect of a score in performance. But it would be unfair to criticize this Four Seasons along such lines. Its blend of technical assurance, liveliness, and alertness and sensitivity to the musical content on its own terms certainly made me enjoy returning to Vivaldi’s most famous work. It reminded me that even if this is hardly profound music, it is genuinely and engagingly charming music with plenty of color.

I nearly forgot to mention the fillers—they are all pleasant, and the Lili Boulanger Nocturne is especially lovely. A real find. But, overall, they are slight in both playing time and memorability. Anyone buying the physical CD will find the total timing beyond stingy. Surely another substantial work could have been included if this was planned for release as a physical product as well as on digital platforms.

Samuel Wigutow




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