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The Four Seasons (Concert Reviews)

Whipping up a storm with Vivaldi
‘La Serenissima, the “most serene republic” of Venice, is also the name of one of Britain’s best-loved chamber orchestras. The connection is Antonio Vivaldi, the “red-haired priest” and Venice’s most famous musical son. La Serenissima has made a speciality of his music, and on Monday night, in a programme of much-needed festive jollity they placed the red priest’s music alongside concertos by his contemporaries, much of it with a Christmas flavour.

While Vivaldi came off best, that’s not to say there weren’t wonderful moments elsewhere. The Sinfonia to “celebrate the sacred birth” by Giuseppe Valentini included a pastorale to evoke the shepherds’ joyous arrival at the scene of Christ’s birth, played with lovely, swaying grace. The group’s chatty director, Adrian Chandler, assured us that Lorenzo Zavateri’s Concerto for Two Violins was “a real corker”, and he wasn’t exaggerating. It too had a lovely pastorale, and a delicious slow movement that at one point featured Chandler and his violin partner, Oliver Cave, crooning in close-knit harmony. For a moment, I thought I was listening to a sentimental Italian pop ballad from the 1970s.

The piece everyone was waiting for was Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

No classical pieces are more overplayed, recomposed and generally abused than these four concertos. And yet, when played with fire and imagination, they are revealed as the masterpieces they truly are. Each concerto is based on a sonnet that describes the season, and part of the fun is bringing to life the vivid scenes of storms, hunting, dancing peasants and summer blowflies.

Chandler and his group achieved that magnificently. The storm in Summer rushed by like a whirlwind, the icy sounds at the beginning of Winter were a cross between a shiver and a crackle of ice. At these moments, the group seemed as precisely drilled as an army, but the really telling moments came when the players relaxed into the solo sections.

Here, Chandler would step forward with some new bit of scene-painting – a pungent “wrong note”, say, to illustrate a barking dog. For a moment, the tempo would seem to be lost, but then a sense of pulse would re-emerge, and soon we would be engulfed in more hair-trigger virtuosity. There was a pungent earthy vividness to everything, which reminded us that Vivaldi – unlike the modernday sophisticates who have recomposed and rearranged his masterpiece – had actually experienced the country realities his music evokes so brilliantly.’

Ivan Hewitt, The Telegraph, December 2023

‘Adrian Chandler’s ensemble revives a unique version of The Four Seasons and presents an avant-garde approach that would have awed Hendrix’

The Guardian, February 2016