Vivaldi: The Four Seasons, Op.8; Concerto in G Minor, Op.12, No.1. Sarah Chang, violin; Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (EMI 3944312)

02.08.08
Sarah Chang
Strings Magazine

Among Vivaldi's innumerable violin concertos, the Four Seasons stand out for their variety and inventiveness and the brilliant effectiveness of the solo part. They are different in form and content from his other, often rather similar concertos and, moreover, are thought to be the first examples of program music, with their evocation of the sounds of nature and vivid images of man's response to the changing seasons. Vivaldi prefaced the concertos with descriptive sonnets, in order, he said, "to explain the music more easily," and even headed each segment with the salient lines.

The concertos have spawned an enormous discography, so anyone adding yet another recording must bring to it a highly personal, very convincing interpretation. Sarah Chang approaches the "Seasons" from a primarily programmatic viewpoint. Mightily abetted by the versatile, adaptable players of Orpheus, she uses her unlimited virtuosity and silken, intense, variable tone to carry out Vivaldi's instructions with all tonal and textural resources: ponticello, very short staccato, scintillating trills. You can hear the hunting horns, bagpipes, harvest dances; the thunder, lightning, wind, and rain; the birdsongs, murmuring brooks, even the barking of a dog.

Tempi are moderate, but the fast passages generate headlong speeds. The slow movements are still and peaceful, the climaxes passionate. This is a highly dramatic, all-out performance, fearless and uninhibited technically and emotionally. Dynamic contrasts are extreme, and colors range from a glassy, unvibrated sound to full-blooded throbbing.

While far removed from "period practice," it is genuinely felt and persuasive on its own terms. Chang plays the familiar G minor concerto with the same lush tone and almost romantic expressiveness, and with lots of spirit and charm. The colorful booklet carries Vivaldi's sonnets in four languages. It also carries nine pictures of Chang, some amid autumn leaves and snowflakes, in glamorous gowns and distressingly affected poses completely at variance with her honest, spontaneous playing.