Yesterday I took my 10 year old daughter for some retail therapy in London. One of the many shops she insisted on going to was Hamleys. As you can imagine at half-term it was nothing short of absolutely ghastly. You couldn't move in there. I ended up buying the most expensive nail varnish known to man just to get out of the wretched place. Never again!
I get nervous of recommending a recording for such a famous work as The Four Seasons by Vivaldi, not least because there are so many very very good recordings. Then there is always the debate as to whether one should listen to it played on modern day instruments or on period instruments of the day. 2014 is the 25th anniversary of the famous recording of the work by Nigel Kennedy which sold over 3 million copies and became one of the best selling classical records ever. This year a new recording has been released on period instruments and at the helm is the leader of the Orchestra of the Age of Englightenment, Transylvanian-born violinist Kati Debretzen. The Independent commented she "may rival Nigel Kennedy in both showmanship and virtuosity". The recording has had such good reviews so I am going to be brave and recommend that you listen to this version.
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) also known as the "Red Haired Priest" because of his shock of hair went into the priesthood aged 15, shortly afterwards in 1703 he got his first professional appointment as maestro at Pio Ospedale della Pieta, which was a well endowed orphanage for the illegitimate daughters of wealthy Venetian noblemen and their mistresses. It was here that he wrote a vast amount of his works including Le Quatro Stagione. Vivaldi spent most of his life at the orphanage but after having made and spent his money like a maharajah, aged 60 he decided to move to Vienna where sadly he died lonely and penniless, leaving his music to lie dormant for the next 100 years.
The Four Seasons bought nature painting into the mainstream planting seeds that would later be taken up by Haydn, Beethoven and Mendlessohn. Vivaldi wrote a descriptive sonnet for each concerto presumably to aid the listener. On this recording Kati Kebretzeni sets about to really bring out the descriptive elements of the work by focusing on the colours and contrasts of the orchestra. In Spring you clearly hear the birds with shepherds snoozing and dogs barking; Summer an array of birds such as cuckoos and turtle doves and a variety of storms; Autumn has peasants dancing and hunters in search of their prey played by a violin turned bugle and Winter heralds the arrival of snow and ice all represented by the coolness of the music. This is a very fresh sounding recording and I thoroughly recommend it.