Eight Seasons in One Concert

23/06/2013

 Vivaldi, Piazzolla: Anna-Liisa Bezrodny, Yuri Zhislin, Carmine Lauri, Natalia Lomeiko, Oxford Philomusica, Town Hall, Cheltenham, 20.6.2013. (RJ)

Vivaldi: The Four Seasons
Piazzolla: The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires

I wouldn’t even hazard a guess as to the number of composers who have set out to depict the seasons. Vivaldi, of course, leads the pack with his Four Seasons, but this fascination is not confined to Baroque composers. One of the most successful attempts of the last century is surely The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires by that great Argentinian exponent of the tango, Astor Piazzolla? The Philomusica programmed both works in the same concert playing them not one after the other but season by season with each of the four soloists responsible for one segment of the year.

Russian Anna-Liisa Bezrodny started off proceedings with an elegant portrayal of Spring with plenty of birdsong, a menacing storm and a jolly rustic dance at the end. Piazzolla’s idea of spring sounded far less pastoral with its percussive, grating rhythms which conjured up a distinctively urban landscape, though it was not short on beauty as represented by an impassioned lyrical melody.

If Ms Bezrodny led her musicians, her compatriot Yuri Zhislin’s galvanised them into action in a performance of Vivaldi’s Summer which was both dramatic and elemental. There was nothing summery about the violent storm he whipped up and the pouring rain of the finale – rather like the English summers we are having! – though the slow movement afforded an opportunity to bask in the sun’s warmth. Piazzolla’s take on summer in the southern hemisphere was a gentler, more sophisticated affair with a rocking rhythm and a melody which tugged at the heart strings.

There was a twinkle in the eye of Maltese violinist Carmine Lauri who brought a sense of party fun to the beginning of Vivaldi’s Autumn where excessive indulgence can unsteady the legs and blur the mind. He let the harpsichord deal with the brief slow movement as he gathered his strength for the galloping hunt finale. Piazzolla clearly decided he needed the mellow tones of the cello to bring an autumnal feel to his Argentinian autumn, and this was provided by the orchestra’s principal cellist, Peter Adams, who gave a warm account of this “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”. Mr Lauri then livened up the action with a tremendous cadenza and a display of remarkable virtuosity.

Natalia Lomeilo, appropriately dressed in white, was as convincing a snow maiden as one could wish for. I sensed a drop in temperature and an icy blast whistling around the auditorium with her chilly evocation of winter interrupted by a brief spell in front of a roaring fire. Piazzolla’s winter had less exposure to the elements and was altogether a cosier affair – thanks to central heating no doubt. The long winter nights complete with tango music are clearly more convivial in Buenos Aires than in 18th century Italy.

This was a concert which turned out more enjoyable and fascinating than I had expected it to be. Not only did one have an opportunity to compare two very different musical responses to the seasons of the year but one could also admire the individual styles of the four very accomplished musicians.

Roger Jones

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