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GRAMOPHONE (11/2019)
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Vivaldi: The Four Seasons, Op. 8 Nos. 1-4 Product Image

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Reviewer: Lindsay Kemp

If you are a fan of The Four Seasons – and its popularity certainly doesn’t stop it from being a masterpiece – you will probably have more than one recording. One will be reliably conventional while still (hopefully) conveying the music’s elemental energy. Another might be more quirky in its summoning of the storms, dog days and festivals of the Italian countryside, good for when you want your imagination fired but perhaps with peculiarities to stop you reaching for it every time.

Leila Schayegh’s recording with Musica Fiorita under Daniela Dolci probably comes into the second category, its most prominent oddities being a brief, improvisatory violin solo to introduce each Season and the addition to the orchestra of a bird-warbler and a thunder sheet. For some these idiosyncrasies will already be too irritating to bear. But if you can listen past them, the performances begin to sound like exceptionally vivid descriptive realisations using the materials Vivaldi gave us. That Schayegh has a strong vision is proved by a charming booklet note which augments Vivaldi’s explicatory sonnets with her own impressions of the seasons in her native Switzerland, providing a level of detail and specificity that finds its way into the music with enormous charm. It means you really feel the heart-lifting reanimation of Spring’s showers and rivulets, the battering exchanges of heat and rain in Summer, the colour and excitement of Autumn, and the seductive comforts and discomforts of Winter.

In her recordings to date Schayegh has shown herself a violinist of real quality, so it is no surprise that she plays with silvery-smooth tone and sure-handed virtuosity, or that her ornamentation of the slow movements of Spring and Winter has shapely long lines. Yet I also feel that she has revealed more of her personality here, while at the same managing the trick of making the performance not be all about her. For that, the orchestra is right on her side, enthusiastic and alert to every nuance, although they may have liked a clearer acoustic, while to my ears two harpsichords, two pluckers and a psaltery is too much continuo for a single-string band. The result, though, is still a Seasons worth turning to more than once in a while.

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