Review: Dan Laurin Plays Vivaldi’s Four Seasons

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In my first blog post, I spoke of my journey into accepting transcriptions and my somewhat recent discovery that Baroque musicians adapted a given piece to the instrumental situations at hand.  With this in mind, I have decided to review an outstanding modern example of this practice:  Swedish recorder virtuoso Dan Laurin’s recording of his transcription of Vivaldi’s magnum opus, The Four Seasons — which has been my #1 favorite classical music piece since fourth grade.

Since Vivaldi’s re-discovery in the mid-twentieth century, this piece has become so famous to the point of frequent over-use and abuse.  I must admit that I’ve heard it practically everywhere, from the concerto hall to commercials and restaurants — which would undoubtedly offend any Baroque composer (See my post “On Seagulls and Purcell” for the reason why).  In addition to the literal hundreds of modern violin recordings of this piece, there are also countless other audio renditions, ranging from historically informed performances to even pop arrangements. In the recorder world, Michala Petri pioneered the playing of the piece with her ground-breaking and sometimes nerve-testing transcription performed in conjunction with the Guildhall String Ensemble — the very recording that initially inspired me to play the recorder. Now internationally-renowned Swedish recorder virtuoso Dan Laurin takes on the piece, masterfully transcribing it for his gentle instrument and performing it in conjunction with the renowned Polish period ensemble, Arte del Suonatori.

Performing on a wide variety of fine recorders ranging from a Fred Morgan fourth flute in A (in Spring) to a Frederich Von Huene alto in genuine carved ivory (in Winter), Laurin treats the audience to a cheerful and often delightfully surprising romp through Vivaldi’s designated 18th-century seasonal sketches. As always, Laurin’s playing sparkles with delicate articulation, exquisite expression, and overall amazing, flawless technique, while Arte del Suonatori adds an equally delicate, excellent, and worthy background to Laurin’s signature virtuosity. Together they perfectly capture the individual moods and textures within the piece, bringing out all the individual nuances from chirping birds to crashing lightning and chattering teeth not too unlike Il Giardino Armonico does in their ground-breaking version.

From the perspective of an experienced violinist who has extensively played The Four Seasons and has heard both Petri’s and Laurin’s renditions, I must say that Laurin’s transcription is more faithful to the original violin version and captures the spirit of the piece more accurately. Michala’s usage of the sopranino with a completely rushed tempo and coldness in expression did not rub me well, yet Laurin’s clever choice of instruments and overall carefulness in expression fully captured my heart. No doubt the violin is best suited to The Four Seasons due to its individual playing capabilities and distinct, brighter sound, yet Laurin manages to pull off a very violin-like performance, staying very faithful to the original while devising clever solutions for overcoming technical differences and difficulties between the two instruments. For example, in the finale of Summer, Laurin utilizes multiphonics (singing while playing) to emulate the violin’s original double-stops — very clever — while managing to pull off flawless, neck-breaking sixteenth runs in Winter just as fast as any fine violinist could play them. The recorder particularly lends itself well to the bird calls in Spring, yet in other aspects it lacks the charm and “zing” that the original violin gives. Overall, still a delightful listen for any Vivaldi, Laurin, recorder, or HIPP fan; I now listen to it frequently besides my other period instrument renditions. Contrast that with my attitude three years ago, when I would only listen to nothing but Il Giardino Armonico’s rendition!

Free previews of Laurin and Arte del Suonatori playing excerpts from The Four Seasons as broadcasted on Polish television can be found on YouTube; here is the clip of the first movement of Spring:

Laurin’s rendition reviewed above is released on a hybrid SACD — which gives the recording a much richer, life-like sound — and can be purchased online at many major music dealers, Amazon and Borders included. Prices vary by store. Click on the links to view purchase options at both Amazon and Borders:

In my first post on this blog, I mentioned how extremely simplified arrangements of The Four Seasons totally turned me off to arrangements. Well, after hearing this recording reviewed above, I do not think that all arrangements of this piece are so bad after all …..

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