Vivaldi’s 4 seasons revisited!

Almost 400 versions of The 4 Seasons….what’s new?

 

With considerable pride we present you a new version of the most famous music on our planet!  “The 4 Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi, played by Gunar Letzbor and his Ars Antique Austria
As many with us, we were in some doubt about recording this music yet again, a 3rd time for me, so I was anxious to know what this recording would bring. I must admit that I was hardly prepared for what was about to come! It must be said however that this probably is the first 4 seasons recording done in AURO-3D 9.1 as well! This means the “standard” 5.1 surround, but than with 4 “hight” channels added. This creates a rather complete immersive experience of the ensemble in this magnificent hall. Great fun here in the studio.

As Gunar Letzbor has explained to us in detail in his motivation for this recording, which probably is almost the 400th version to be available, this music is a typical example of Catholic Baroque, which is based on communicative “Images” which are portrayed in a theatrical fashion. This as opposed the Reformed Baroque performances, like the music of Bach, in which “the holy Word” is the most important parameter, i.e. less theatrical.

 

Extremes…

 

Ars Antiqua Austria takes this given fact to the extreme in Vivaldi’s master piece by putting all the music fully in the service of what is to be portrayed and communicated, nature itself in this case, and this has made this music, maybe chewed on e few times to often in general, completely fresh again. One can never speak of a definitive version, but it will be hard to top this one in my humble opinion! It will not be everybody’s cup of tea for sure, but man oh man, it was great fun working on it!

 

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True Baroque environment….

 

We recorded the music in a large Baroque style hall, the “Sommer Refektorium” in the Stift of St. Florian, Austria. This is a dinner hall that the monks use during hot evenings in summer, whereby all the ceiling high windows are fully open, so as if dining outdoors.  The acoustic of this hall is very generous and all that is happening outside this hall, for instance in the adjacent gardens, is clearly audible all the time. In this case these noises have become a substantial part of this recording of the famous 4 seasons! The fact that the weather during the sessions changed from a gentle 24 degrees to minus 5(!) within 4 days, with a real snow storm during our drive home only made things more imaginative to us;-)

 

Theatre with suggestive images…

 

A few examples for you to carefully listen to, and to me completely revealing in the basic idea of this music:
– An extreme live like “Spring” with birds and immense joyous blossoming of flowers and plants in nature.
You will find the birds in the adjacent garden singing in sync with the birds in the music. Lovely!

– In the second movement a sleepy person (solo violin), ever so often almost falling asleep, lies beside a small stream (monotonous accompanying violins), whilst 2 dogs are barking “out of sync” in the background (viola). Very funny at times, but yes; dogs don’t bark in the rhythm of music;-)

– An almost Ennio Morricone like “Once upon a time in the West” atmosphere followed in “Summer”, portraying the heat trembling above the fields, whereby every time I hear the mysterious Lute of Hubert Hoffmann in the back tinkling like a wind harp, I think of the Fender Telecaster electrical guitar in this movie theme…This is what our modern ears do, with all the musical knowledge of centuries after Vivaldi, but yes this does create exactly the feeling of the hottest summer ever, and for sure this feeling was the same for the people in those days…

– Than follows the most thunderous hail storm I ever heard being played by a couple of string instruments!! You can see the trees bent over almost ripped out of the ground. Gunar waisted 2 bows during this session which was scheduled as last, just because:-) Very nice detail is the sound of the bells of St. Florians church next door, clearly audible during and after the track, as if they had to be there, warning people for the deadly storm, thunder and lightning, causing fires all over the place!!

– The very “farmeresque” scene in “autumn” by the land people, rather clumsy dancing, celebrating their successful harvest, getting wildly drunk and afterwards sleep out their intoxication..

– A most delightful seen in “Autumn”, where a vigorous hunting scene is portrayed in the 3rd movement. You can clearly imagine the frightened and suddenly fleeing deers, the unsettling gun shots of the hunting party (slapping Bas) and the lamenting song of a dying animal at the end of the movement. I assure you, you never heard this movement like this although recorded hundreds of times!

– Than there is the unforgivingly cold winter where all molecules seem to come to a stand still and where all covered in ice starts to crack and break…The score of the music is literally stretched out by AAA in double bars ever so often and the sound of the strings and bows is like icicles! Again the church bells sound blows in the wind over the icy plane before a final snow blizzard erases all evidence of life.

All in all, this 4 seasons leaves you in shock and awe when all images have been engraved in your system!
Fascinating stuff!

Oh,….and than there is also a very nice encore with a violin concerto by Frantisek Jiránek, a guy that Vivaldi supposedly met at some occasion and where on that moment this composition was apparently performed.

September 2016

Bert van der Wolf

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