Ear-opening pairing of Vivaldi and Grisey from the London Sinfonietta

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Vivaldi and Grisey: Michael Morpurgo (narrator), Clio Gould, Oliver Wilson (violins), Oliver Wilson (viola), Clare O’Connell (cello), Jonas Nordberg (archlute), David Gordon (harpsichord), Katherine Tinker (chamber organ), Members of the London Sinfonietta, Daniel Piero (violin, director) / Geoffrey Paterson (conductor). Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 21.5.2023. (MB)

Daniel Pioro © Raphaël Neal

Vivaldi – The Four Seasons, Op.8
Grisey – Vortex temporum

Musicians – Karen Jones (flutes), Mark van de Wiel (clarinets), Paul Silverthorne (viola), Tim Gill (cello), Andrew Zolinsky (piano)

All music unfolds in time. Here, two musical works, separated by the greater part of three centuries, explored in turn time’s unfolding. It has become such a cliché to moan about the ubiquity of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons that perhaps now it is time, as it were, to welcome it back to the fold. (In any case, apart from telephonic descents into hell punctuated by reminders of the value of our call and eagerness of Corporation X to answer us, we can readily avoid it. I have for years.) It is certainly time to do so if treated to so engaging a performance as this from Daniel Pioro and friends. Comparisons between Baroque music – a well-nigh meaningless term, but anyway – and jazz are overdone, yet here there really was something akin to that spirit of listening and responsiveness on show, Pioro often at most first among equals, sometimes even ready to cede that position, as well as stepping up – and around the stage, as if it visit his colleagues – to the solo spot when the moment seized him. Introduced and punctuated by similarly engaging readings on the four seasons by Michael Morpurgo, this was no ordinary Vivaldi, which is surely the best plan for rescue of these concertos.

‘Spring’ showed us many things, reminded us of a good few more. The greater prominence assumed by the continuo players, both on account of chamber scale but also their conception both of work and role, marked it from the start, as did Pioro’s camaraderie with his fellow string players. Duetting, trios, jamming: it was all there in the first movement, yet also beyond. If he were more a conventional soloist in the slow movement, such is the material. The third took a folk-like route, Pioro as head fiddler in foot-stomping mood, rock-solid continuo providing rhythmic underpinning.

Bird-calls of ‘Summer’ came not only from the violin, but also from organist Katherine Tinker’s moonlighting, also prefiguring the world of Grisey. Stormy rumblings and other aspects of the natural world eventually erupted, leaving us with something old and new, known and unknown: perhaps a metaphor for Vivaldi’s cycle as a whole, as well as its modern reception. Jonas Nordberg’s animating presence on archlute for the first movement of ‘Autumn’ again dissolved expectations of genre, writing, and performance. What was Vivaldi here, and what was extemporisation? Why should one care? After the vivid contrasts of the two succeeding movements, ‘Winter’ concluded in vivid pictorial and extra-pictorial fashion. It was still full of surprises, not least an unexpected pedal, above which various solo lines prepared for the final fireworks.

For Gérard Grisey’s Vortex temporum, Pioro joined the ranks of the London Sinfonietta, conducted by Geoffrey Paterson. If any player were first among equals here, it was pianist Andrew Zolinsky. There from the opening éclat, along with flautist Karen Jones and clarinettist Mark van de Wiel, those instruments’ pulsating sound serving, among other things, to introduce the strings, the piano would close the first movement with a fearsome, ferocious solo. In between, one experienced much of that strange hyper-clarity of sound that seems to come with the best of spectralism. (Like others with serialism, I prefer results to aesthetic.) Out of that, sound itself seemed to re-emerge, transformed and even recreated in the second movement, as we passed from ‘normal’, human time to the ‘expanded’ time of whales. A hypnotic quality to the piano’s descending figure, varied in repetition – dare one say ‘development’? – as enveloped by ensemble penumbra, did indeed suggest Grisey’s titular vortex.

There and in the third movement, strings elevated us to the world of birdsong and its ‘compressed’ time. They seemed indeed to breathe as naturally as us humans, perhaps more so. Balances, roles, techniques were reinvented before our ears; proliferation remained, unlike that of, say, Boulez, centripetal rather than centrifugal. A universe was not being created, but rather turning in on itself, ‘compressed’. Piero and others had solo moments, but this was even more an ensemble piece, a collaborative effort, than Vivaldi. Or was it? Perhaps it was simply a different way to do something similar, to make music, as indeed we should find in Boulez too. Not only to make music, of course, but to make it interestingly, both as work and performance — and, one hopes, in listening too.

Mark Berry

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