I know what you're thinking -- does the world really need another recording of The Four Seasons? After all, in a genre brimming with enough warhorses to keep your local Taco Bell supplied for years on end, Vivaldi's classic Baroque series of violin concertos is el grande burrito deluxe! Sure, it's wonderful music, but after hearing Perlman, Stern, Shaham, Kennedy, Menuhin, etc., doesn't it get a bit old?
Strangely, that seems to be the point of this new recording by Concerto Italiano. Conductor Rinaldo Alessandrini strips away decades of performance practice to reveal a sparkling new approach to this masterpiece. If one could liken the ensemble's 18th-century concertante virtuosity to anything, it would be punk rock. In the fast movements, each melody rings with the same staccato strum and rhythmic bite that made Joey Ramone a household name. Slow movements, though, become atmospheric dirges -- nothing like the romantic love songs to which others reform them.
Admittedly, the result is a bit schizophrenic at first, but half the fun of listening to such a recording is the joy of hearing such familiar music as if for the first time. For example, try the opening of the "Winter" concerto -- a forceful rocking lilt to the intro before violin pyrotechnics in the soloist's opening cadenzas clear the stage. However, the performers know listeners expect the soloist's passages to be rushed and therefore they keep it clean and focused instead of Lisztian. Somehow, though, the modern-sounding rhythm and slightly dissonant string continuo make the whole thing sound more urgent than the tempo would suggest.
Such approaches aren't entirely unprecedented. Another Italian group, Il Giardino Armonico, did something similar with this work a decade ago. However, Concerto Italiano makes its elder countrymen sound downright reverent. While I'd never part with the former reading, these newcomers deserve a listen. So it seems, yes, the world really does need another recording of Vivaldi's magnum opus. Who knew?