Vivaldi’s Four Seasons

Vivaldi’s Four Seasons
Academy of Ancient Music
Richard Egarr, Rachel Podger

Live from The Barbican
First broadcast 27 June 2021. Available on-line until 29 June

Corelli: Concerto Grosso No 1 in D major, Op 6
Maria Grimani: Sinfonia to Pallade e Marte
Corelli: Concerto Grosso No 2 in F major, Op 6
VivaldiThe Four Seasons

Vivaldi’s Four Season’s is an inevitable war-horse guaranteed to attract audiences – in this case, a reduced socially-distanced audience for the live performance together with on-line viewers who have the option to view, for a modest fee, until 8pm on Tuesday 29 June. There are limits as to what performers can do with the Four Seasons, one being musical taste. But there is no limit as to the context in which a performance is set. And that is what makes this airing interesting, with its rare performance of the Sinfonia to Pallade e Marte by Maria Grimani, alongside two of Corelli’s well-known Concerto Grossi.

The subdued opening to Corelli’s first Concerto Grossi is a prelude to the bustling section that follows, with virtuoso playing from violinists Bojan Čičić and Persephone Gibbs and cellist Joseph Crouch. The remaining multi sections, as in the following more rumbustuous second Concerto, explored a range of timbres and moods, all carefully and intellegently moulded by Richard Eggar from the harpsichord and Bojan Čičić, the leader the Academy Ancient Music.

Maria Margherita Grimani (1680–c1720) was active in the Imperial Court in Vienna for a few years around 1715, although she was not listed there as a musician. Her three known works include the opera Pallade e Marte, composed in 1713 as a componimento drammatico per musica, and first performed (it is not clear whether it was fully staged) in the Imperial Theatre on the Emperor Charles VI’s nameday. The short Sinfonia to Pallade e Marte is a relatively straight-forward affair in three segued movements covering no more than around 100 bars and lasting just over 3 minutes. It rarely extended beyond the merely competent, but the added ornamentation to the central Largo helped to lift it a little. It is a shame that the AAM didn’t take the opportunity to perform the rest of Pallade e Marte – it is short, and only needs two singers and might have given Grimani more of a chance to shine.

Rachel Podger could no doubt play the Four Seasons in her sleep, but she managed to bring a fresh and insightful perspective to the piece. The broadcast had the text of the four sonnets as subtitles, helping to guide the way through the complex series of seasonable events. As in the Corelli Concerto Grossi, violinists Bojan Čičić and Persephone Gibbs and cellist Joseph Crouch excelled, and theorbo player Kristiina Watt also impressed with her continuo playing, as did Richard Eggar, despite a bit of naughtiness at the start of the Autumnal Adagio.