Janine Jansen - Vivaldi The Four Seasons

Posted By MiOd On Wednesday, August 14, 2013 Under
"This is a delight with a seriousness of purpose that rather belies the star-centred packaging. Jansen and friends offer this ever-popular work in a cut-down, chamber version that grows on you with each listening. The playing is full of vigour and imagination, and the sound merely adds to the appeal... you're unlikely to resist Jansen's charms for long."
The young Dutch violinist Janine Jansen has attracted attention, to say the least, with the cover artwork on her recording of Vivaldi's Four Seasons violin concertos; it could have come straight out of the European edition of Vogue in a year when necklines plunged off the bottom of the chart. But the real surprises come on the disc itself. Jansen runs wild with Vivaldi's music, guided by little more than her own imagination. From historically informed performers she borrows the license to improvise. From the old-fashioned big-name violinists who played Vivaldi she borrows a full Romantic repertoire of violin sounds. And the radical conception of her backing ensemble (unnamed, but featuring several family members) she borrows from nobody at all: she uses solo (modern, except for her own Stradivarius) strings, plus a continuo that shifts as the mood strikes between harpsichord, organ, and theorbo. "I began playing the Bach concertos with reduced orchestra, to see what it would sound like -- and I found it worked extremely well," writes Jansen in the notes. "So I decided to give it a go with Vivaldi as well." All in all, the terms "extreme" and even "over the top" can safely be applied to Jansen's recording. A gleefully unidiomatic application of tempo rubato is the most striking feature of her performance -- or the most glaring, depending on your point of view -- and dynamics are explosive. She certainly responds with maximum vividness to the detailed program Vivaldi attached to his four concertos.

One may feel that Jansen's untrammeled, ultra-Romantic interpretive freedom clashes with the essentially terraced quality of Vivaldi's music -- that his programmatic effects succeed so well exactly because they are confined within the rigidities of Baroque concerto structure, not in spite of that confinement. Potential buyers should sample this disc as far as possible before clicking the "buy" button, and it's not a good choice for the newcomer. Reactions will necessarily be personal. Yet strangely enough, even for this leaner in the direction of historically authentic performances, Jansen's recording works. The Four Seasons are so familiar by now that they're almost like one of the modal instructional compositions of Near Eastern classical musical systems -- any young violinist must realize them anew, demonstrating both technical competence and fresh ideas. Everyone is trying to make an impression; Jansen just goes further than most, and she has the chops to pull off anything she can think of. You may laugh out loud at the audacity of some of her moves -- not a bad thing, really --and though you may have heard the Four Seasons hundreds of times, there will be points where you're not sure what you're listening to. The Red Priest, himself an extremist, might have applauded Jansen's work if he could somehow have seen a hundred years into the musical future. As for the d├ęcolletage, it may be historically relevant to a doubtless highly charged situation in which a defrocked priest wrote music for an orchestra composed of teenage girls. This performance was recorded with microphones right in the middle of the group, picking up every musical detail and also breathing, bowing, and other noises. Like the disc as a whole, that's sometimes annoying. But it's conceptually consistent with the rest of what's happening. Bottom line: listen, and hold on for dear life.

With well over 100 recordings to choose from, such are the musical possibilities thrown up by Vivaldi’s vibrant pictograms that no two versions sound remotely alike. Of the old-school versions, Henryk Szeryng directing the English Chamber Orchestra on Philips (now sadly deleted) still holds sway, although finest of recent accounts on modern instruments is Anne-Sophie Mutter’s second DG outing with the Trondheim Soloists, an exhilarating musical rollercoaster ride that surprises at every dive and swerve, without resorting to the grating eccentricity and puerile shock tactics of several period-instrument versions.

If Mutter turns Romantic semantic sensibilities on their head, Janine Jensen might be said to marry traditional expressive values with the textural vitality and bracing inventiveness of authenticity. Jansen possesses the ideal combination of intonational purity and tonal allure, and is beguilingly responsive to the music’s shifting moods, creating the uncanny impression of a series of vividly drawn characters passing before our eyes as we listen. The all-star ensemble responds to her every whim and caprice with a ravishing sequence of captivating sonorities that grow naturally out of the music rather than merely being superimposed on it. The recording possesses a seductive autumnal glow that bathes the listener in a stream of golden sound. Forget the meagre playing time: with this exemplary release, the benchmark has been raised just that bit higher.

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