On CD: Rebel and Vivaldi
Web-only review by Mark J. Estren
Rebel: Les Éléments; Vivaldi: The Four Seasons. Akademie für Alte Musik, Berlin, with Midori Seiler, solo violin. Harmonia Mundi.
Clever pairing, this: Four Seasons with Four Elements (air, water, fire, earth) – although Jean-Féry Rebel’s Les Éléments is actually in 10 movements. Or 11 in this case: The Akademie für Alte Musik repeats the Chaconne as a built-in encore. Nor is that the only unusual addition: The performance also includes percussion, birdsong in the “Ramage” and “Rossignols” movements, and wind effects in the “Caprice.”
(read more after the jump)
Although capricious, the Rebel is accurately played in the style of its time (1737), with real snap and bite in “Tambourins” and gorgeous flute sounds throughout. The famous opening chord of the first movement, “Le Chaos” – containing all the notes of the D minor scale – sounds even more dramatic than Beethoven’s similar start of the finale of his Ninth Symphony, simply because the sound is even more unexpected in the Baroque. There are less quirky, equally authentic versions of the Rebel by Arion on earlymusic.com and L’Orfeo Barockorchester on Phoenix, but none offers as much sheer fun as this one.
The Vivaldi is a more mixed success. It is beautifully played and abounds in elegant instrumental touches – but also some unwarranted tempo changes and surprising miscalculations, including swelling and swooning. Midori Seiler gives a lovely performance as first among equals rather than an overweening virtuoso. And the highly atmospheric first movement of “Summer” and second of “Autumn” are simply outstanding. But at times the performers seem to be trying too hard to do something different. A photo in the CD case perfectly encapsulates this: It shows three ensemble members performing while balancing apples on their heads.
-- Mark J. Estren
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