#1447 Antonio Vivaldi – The Four Seasons (Nigel Kennedy)

I picked this up recently for a quid at my local charity shop (sorry Nige). I have several versions of what is arguably Vivaldi’s ‘greatest hit’ in my collection, but not this one. I was very aware of it when released in 1989 (and Mr Kennedy’s Aston Villa football kit-wearing and much-ridiculed Mockney accent) but it was purchased mainly for my wife to hear. The third movement (dramatic thundering opening of Summer) is one of her favourite pieces of music (vetoed by me as our wedding entrance accompaniment) and Kennedy is merely an Englishman attempting to bring life to a beloved Italian.

This is not Kennedy’s first recording, he was already lauded as a child prodigy and performing internationally from the age of 16 – with Yehudi Menuhin no less. But it’s the one that propelled him to stardom and put classical music (at least in the U.K.) back into the album charts. It sold more than 3 million copies and is the best-selling classical recording ever. Arguably it also changed the promotion and selling of classical music forever, as the album received the kind of TV advertising and media marketing that had previously been only spent on pop music. They even released a ‘single’ as part of the promotion (Spring in case you were wondering). Its best-selling status presumably also aided by the late 80s/early 90s ubiquity and relative affordability of the Compact Disc.

On this recording Kennedy offers us youth, energy and a ‘non-classical’ demeanour: spiky hair, scruffy clothes, which also gave permission for classical musicians (and their audience) to step out of their tuxedos and start wearing jeans to concerts. He went on to get way more rock ‘n’ roll, playing virtuoso Jimi Hendrix guitar solos on the violin, and playing and recording in his own modern jazz group.

In 2015 Kennedy recorded a new interpretation of this classic, called, appropriately, The New Four Seasons, which I’ve not heard, but from this clip appears to feature percussion and brass. He’s not the only artist to have found it a fascinating canvas for reinterpretation, Max Richter had a go in 2012 with his Recomposed version. Despite its popularity, at least for modern audiences, (Vivaldi’s work was largely ignored until the middle of the 20th century), it also found itself at the centre of the debate raging (at least in classical music circles) against the ‘romantic’ approach to recording this and other baroque works – with large string orchestras, lots of vibrato and a kind of homogenised sound suitable for playing in restaurants or hotel lounges. This was in contrast to the new authentic sound, using baroque instruments to play baroque instruments. On this recording, Kennedy mixes the old with the new, writing in the sleevenotes that “if a piece of music belongs only to the time in which it was written, it should not be played today.”

Best Bits: Autumn II, Adagio molto – the harmonics on this are stunning, literally stopped me in my tracks on first listen
Genre: Baroque Classic
Like This, Try This: The promo vid for The New Four Seasons

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