Posts Tagged ‘John Coltrane’

after the rain

August 8, 2011

This five minutes of musical bliss brought to you by…Coltrane, of course.

still here, you?

May 21, 2011

Around an hour and a half ago it occurred to me that, if indeed the rapture was going to be starting at 6pm sharp ET as promised, I had just about enough time to listen to one of two things: Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” approximately three times in a row, or the complete Mahler Symphony #2.

Being a Taurus (ie: not being accustomed to denying myself any kind of Earthly pleasure), I decided since I have two ears I would listen to BOTH.

And I began.

Only when a “Love Supreme” had just ended its first spin a half hour or so later (and around 10 min. into the second movement of the Mahler) did I realize this double act of profound pleasure undoubtedly qualifies as Gluttony.

And I exclaimed… ” !!! ” And then, immediately realizing I had Blasphemed (!), an even worse word popped into my head.

There is no salvation for the true music fan.

This is Coltrane’s fault.

equinox

September 23, 2010

I’ve always wondered if it was a coincidence that John Coltrane’s birthday falls around the time of the autumn equinox, and the fact that he wrote a jazz classic by that name.

For your listening/viewing pleasure today, September 23rd, 2010 – the 84th anniversary of the great man’s birth AND the first official full day of autumn, enjoy Equinox:

kirk on trane

August 11, 2010

The 75th anniversary of Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s birthday was  on August 7th. With influential recordings like Bright Moments, Blacknuss, and 1964’s I Talk With Spirits, Kirk lived and created among the foremost creative minds of the 20th century. He was fascinated by the music and rhythms of everyday life: TV, street sounds, and other people’s music. Some of his last recordings (like The Case of the 3-Sided Dream) foreshadowed the kind of audio dubbing and sampling techniques that are still cutting-edge today, some 35 years later!

Here’s a sweet set from Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s tribute to John Coltrane, live in Montreaux, 1972 – featuring Misty and I Want To Talk About You:

in the garden

July 11, 2010

It’s a ripe garden of great tunes on this week’s World of Music, including DJ Frane’s organic-electric fantasy, the Electric Garden of Delights.

We’ll hear the newest releases from Brazil’s Luisa Maita, Vermont’s own Guagua, and Benin’s Angelique Kidjo.

Mongo Santamaria and the Easy Star All-Stars offer tributes to the Beatles and Pink Floyd, and we’ll preview Crescent, the exceptional new Coltrane tribute album from vibes artist Mike Mainieri.

World of Music is a fertile compost of blues, poetry, jazz, and international music every Monday from 3-5pm ET on the Radiator. Online, or at 105.9FM if you’re listening in Burlington, VT.

hot

July 10, 2010

Maybe you’ve heard about it. Maybe you live in the Northeast, and you don’t need to be told about it. The heat and humidity here have been unusually oppressive in the last week. It’s not Costa Rica, it’s not Vietnam. It’s not Syria or Morocco. I don’t mean to overstate the point. But by Vermont standards, we’re seriously in the soup.

Favoring the cooler temps on the main floor of the house, I’ve been sleeping on the sofa for most of the last week over the comparatively extreme heat of the bedroom on the second floor. It’s around a seven degree difference from the 80 degrees F. of the main (sofa) floor to the 87 or so degrees of the second (bed) floor (with similar humidity percentages each night), and that makes all the difference between a night of sticky sleeplessness and a moderately more comfortable one.

This information is relevant only in understanding where I’ve been coming from the last several days: a sleep deprived, somewhat summer blues kind of place. Happens every year. This just isn’t my season. When I can’t sleep lately I’ve been reading Adam Foulds’ novel The Quickening Maze, about the real-life poets John Clare and Alfred Lord Tennyson and Matthew Allen, the founder of the High Beach Private Asylum in Essex, England, where both Clare and Tennyson’s brother Septimus were residents. The novel’s timeshifting part-fiction, part-reality world has been good companionship for this week’s disorienting half-awake, not-quite-sleeping zone of late night reading.

I’ve also been spending a lot of time these last few days with Crescent, the new 2-CD album from Mike Mainieri. His vibes are complemented by alto sax man Charlie Mariano, and double bassist Dieter Ild. Crescent isn’t officially available yet, it has a July 17th release date – a week from today. I wanted to mention it today so you have a chance to pre-order it and make sure it’s in your hands at the very earliest opportunity. You’ll be glad you made the effort.

Mike Mainieri conceived of Crescent as a tribute to John Coltrane. It features originals like Naima, Giant Steps, and the title track, along with some of the standards Trane adopted into his regular rep: Cole Porter’s I Love You, Bye Bye Blackbird, and Body and Soul. But the recording also serves to honor album mate Charlie Mariano, Mainieri’s longtime friend but only recent music collaborator. Mariano passed away on June 16th last year, and this is his very last recording session. The vibes/sax/double bass trio is completed by Germany’s Dieter Ilg. It’s outstanding.

The playful vibe/sax interplay for the few first bars of Bye Bye Blackbird are nothing if not pure friendship, realized in music. Ilg’s groovy bass provides an unexpectedly fresh opening for Giant Steps, and the dark, quiet bowed bass/vibes intro to Mr. Syms opens the moody portal for Mariano’s soulful sax to slide in a few bars later. And don’t overlook Jimmy Van Heusen’s languid ballad Nancy (With the Laughing Face), a tender little thing with Mariano’s sweetly crafted phrasing.

I never realized it before, but Crescent has opened my ears to the real affinity between the natural reverberant overtones of the vibes and the shifting, fluid harmonies that characterize many of Coltrane’s original compositions, like Wise One and Ole. On these and the other standards, Mariano’s sax is biting and driving where it needs to be, while also offering a grace and lyricality that befits a tribute to the legendary sensitivity and complexity of the older master’s style. Bassist Dieter Ilg’s tasteful bass lines support the whole effort, completing the trio with a solid contribution to the musical conversation.

If the summer weather must make for nocturnal restlessness, then surely the reward is the extra time that sleeplessness affords with a good book like The Quickening Maze and a gorgeous album like Crescent.

How are you spending the time you’re not sleeping during the long, hot nights?

2010 montreal jazz fest – after the rain

June 29, 2010

We’re taking a break from this week’s World of Music to spend some time at one of the premiere outlets for great jazz in the Northeast. However, you can count on hearing music far beyond jazz at the Montreal Jazz Festival: Eastern European Gypsy brass bands, griots from Mali, blues singers from Australia and North Africa…I’ve seen them all there. Along with Ravi Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Kenny Werner, you-name-it for top names on today’s scene.

For straightahead jazz you’re still in the right place. Before arriving at the festival, the early evening held a stop at the  Cinematheque Quebecoise, where a triple film feature revealed three classics: Now (1965), from Cuban director Santiago Álvarez (with Lena Horne singing over a civil rights video montage); Ken Levis’ 1980 film Jackie Mclean on Mars, a documentary on Mclean’s legendary passionate classes at Hartford University, along with a couple of unexpectly insightful, personal practice sessions; and Serge Leroy’s concert footage from the John Coltrane Quartet’s 1965 Comblain-la-Tour date, with the Man and his ace quartet at their top in Naima, and My Favorite Things. It’s one thing to listen to recordings from that era. They give you a good feel for the energy that fueled the Quartet at that time. It’s another thing to SEE the steam pour off of McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones working through the Coltrane charts on that chilly summer night in Belgium.

Last night was a good cross-section of the diversity the Festival offers, with roadhouse blues, soft jazz fusion from Haiti, Arab hip-hop, and a big band version of Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love (wherein the female Robert Plant surrogate did a fairly creditable job with the howling vocals). The freshly rain-slicked Place des Arts glowed in reflecting puddles of Festival lights and banners while the warm, VERY humid night hummed with its own musical vibrations.

I experience many different things each year in Montreal – but even if I just came for the jazz I’d leave happy.

like sonny

June 18, 2010

The week after the Discover Jazz Festival is always such a let down. There’s so much, for such a concentrated time – and then it’s all gone.

I’m consoling myself this week with some of the photos taken during the 10 days of the Fest, catching up on everyone else’s blogs reviewing the shows, and listening to recordings I’ve recently had my ears re-opened to, like Sonny Rollins’ The Bridge and Easy Star All Stars’ Dub Side of the Moon. It’s been fun.

In Bob Blumenthal’s Meet the Artist session with Sonny Rollins last Friday night (was that really only a week ago!?), Mr. Rollins was asked by an audience member about his relationship with John Coltrane. “Ah, I knew I’d get the Coltrane question!” was how his answer began, with chuckles from the audience. He went on to say that he considered himself and Trane “good friends, I would say we were very good friends”.

If you’re in Fest withdrawal like me this week, here’s a little story that will go some way to help by offering a deeper answer to that “Coltrane question”. (You’ll just have to get past the pretentious way the filmmaker says “saxophonist” – saxOFF-onist. He’s not English. So I don’t care where he got it from, it sounds pretentious. Otherwise – a great story, well, told.)

2009 in the rearview: what’s to love in music, part 1

January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

I’ve been thinking about the fact that year-end “best of” music lists usually leave me wanting because of how tunnel-visioned they can be. When you come across a list described as “Best Songs” or “Best Albums of the Year” you can guess without even glancing at it that it will more than likely focus on pop or indie releases. They contain no jazz, no world music, not even any country or folk music “songs” – and classical or opera are definitely out of the question.

This much I know of indie/pop music from the last year: Death Cab for Cutie, Wilco, the Decemberists, Neko Case and Jonatha Brooks all have recent recordings and make for fine listening. If you’re into more adventurous sounds, you’ll enjoy the latest from XX, Animal Collective, Grizzly Bears, and the Dirty Projectors. Likewise, I’m told the new Lady Gaga recording really represents a new sound; a genuinely fresh and creative vision. I haven’t heard much of it myself yet but I’m curious, always on the lookout for a unique voice, and I will certainly check it out at some point.

For anything besides pop or indie offerings you need to move past the popular “best of” lists and find less mainstream, more specialized sources if they exist. That’s alright, I suppose, I’d rather have a good list from an expert than a few token offerings from someone who doesn’t really love the music they’re listing.

Consequently, this look back at 2009’s music may come off as somewhat unconventional. It contains music from several different genres. I don’t feel like I can call it the “best of 2009” because I didn’t hear everything that came out last year. And I’m not going to limit the list to a number: this isn’t the ‘top 10’ or the  ‘top 50’. In fact I’m not sure right now how many recordings there will be on the final list. I’m just going to share with you some of the sounds that caught my ear over the last year, with the one provision that the recordings listed here all warranted repeated listening. In no special order, these are the recordings I loved and listened to the most in 2009:

Einujuhani Rautavaara: “12 Concertos” – I do believe that native landscape and culture can have a tangible effect on a music’s sound, and not always intentionally. The simultaneous compositional austerity and warmth of Finland’s Einojuhani Rautavaara is found nowehere more evidently than in his concertos, recently collected in the 2009 anthology 12 Concertos from Ondine Records. In each work, his great skill at manipulating a pre-determined tonal palette gives the music the lumonisity and transparency of masterful, muscular watercolors. The set includes the three piano concertos along with the concertos for harp, for flute, for violin, for cello, and – my two favorites, the Clarinet Concerto and the Concerto for (Arctic) Birds and Orchestra. There is so much to love in this rich anthology, and just when you think you’ve experienced all the 4-CD set has to offer, you can listen again and make more new discoveries.            Kailash Kher & Kailasa: “Yatra – Nomadic Souls” – If you lived in India the following sentence wouldn’t be necessary: Kailash Kher is the most popular singer in India today. His familiar beaming smile, powerful voice, supreme musicianship and magnetic personality have given him a place on the stage (leading his group, Kailasa); in Bollywood (as a top film composer); and on Indian television (as a celebrity judge on the show, Indian Idol). So why, in America, is this introduction necessary? It’s crazy to me that people around the world know who Madonna, Beyoncé, and Brittney Spears are: even if people have never heard the music from these artists, the personalities are an inescapable international pop culture ‘presence’. Conversely, American audiences are often in the dark when it comes to the superstars (not to mention the equally talented, lesser-known artists) of other countries. If you don’t already know Kailash Kher, then please let the outstanding 2009 recording Yatra – Nomadic Souls be your introduction to this fascinating musician and the fine ensemble Kailasa. The songs are traditional in many ways like their instrumentation (including tablas, oud and santoor) and their form (Sufi qwaal and Hindustani ‘classical’), and yet equally contemporary in others, like their length (shorter) and rhythmic, melody-driven lines. Yatra is an endlessly rewarding recording that balances genuine soul with popular appeal.

Kurt Elling: “Dedicated to You” – Let’s see: One of today’s most gifted and stylish singer/arrangers decides to pay tribute to monster talents John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, by re-interpreting the songs from their iconic eponymous collaboration. (Along with a few bonus tunes from the Hartman-less Coltrane Ballads release). We’ll call the result, Dedicated to You, a win/win/win with a solid chalk mark in every column. Elling does not trawl through the original lineup, track for track, note for note, nuance for nuance, in the kind of misguided “tribute” that so often comes off much more like an overly reverent excercise in faithful recreation. Elling revisits the original songs by inhabiting them, with his signature exquisite phrasing, his soaring vocal technique, and his own personal warmth as a singer. It is obvious he truly loves these songs, he loves the Coltrane/Hartman versions of them, and he loves being able to bring them to audiences in his own, fully-invested way. Understanding and appreciating your source material is a great place to come from as an artist. And it’s a great place to visit with this special, very personal recording, which as far as I am concerned can Say It Over (and Over and Over…) Again.

The Very Best: “The Warm Heart of Africa” – I was introduced to this recording by a friend, late in the year – many months after Warm Heart had been released (and more than a year after the first excited buzz about it had begun circulating on the web). My first reaction was dismay, in thinking “how did I miss this one?” and then I put that aside and let myself be carried away by the ride. And what a ride! Warm Heart lives up to every bit of its name with groovy, light-spirited funky tunes that rely on the feel and tradition of African vocals, rhythms and musical styles (highlife, in particular) fused with Western pop sensibilities. Great fun, but happily not to the detriment of quality music-making.

Renée Fleming: “Verismo” – I’d be hard put (and flat-out wrong) to describe Renée Fleming as a verismo soprano. She’s just too nice. But do I love her singing verismo arias? Yes I do! Even when she’s not given to the full range of hysteria, sobbing, and frequently guttural, more earthy sounds that characterize the style at its most fully realized. The one aria on Verismo I found myself returning to repeatedly is the hauntingly sad Sola, perduta, abbandonata (“alone, lost, and abandoned”) from Puccini’s defining opera, Manon Lescaut. Fleming gets all of that one. Along with the familiar verismo arias are several rarely heard selections, like those from Giordano’s Siberia (you’re not the only one saying “Giordano’s WHAT!?” right now), and Cilèa’s Gloria. Fleming completists will want to add this one to the collection because it’s Fleming. And, it’s good. If you’re more into the faithful rendering of the repertoire at its verismo brightest, this recording may not be the one you want. Bottom line is, this is a very nice recording with Fleming at her smoky, emotive best – verismo perfect or not.

Brad Paisley: “American Saturday Night” – Remember Brad Paisley’s “Ticks“? That’s a song that got play far beyond its targeted country music audience. The reason was its novelty, of course, but it goes beyond that. Paisley is a top-flight songwriter (and guitarist, for that matter) whose abilities shine through in funny, insightful and often poignant observations on the common things of everyday human life. He’s bold and adventurous, and his style offers a fresh perspective in an increasingly discouraging formulaic landscape of pre-fab country music hooks and hits. I’ve been listening to country music longer than any other style. I grew up on Marty Robbins and Jim Reeves and Charley Pride and Hank and Johnny and Roy and Elvis and Dolly and all the other country greats known best by a single, iconic name. With over 40 years of listening to country music (and, yes, liking it too –  if that needs to be said) I’m telling you, Brad Paisley is the real deal. American Saturday Night represents something of a change for Paisley as he moves away from catchy novelty songs and the clever rhymes to offer reflections on everything from raising kids in the 21st c. world of internet and iPods (Welcome to the Future), to the tender ballad about mature love, Then. And if you listen to country music for a flat-out good time, not to worry, American Saturday Night isn’t only about Deep Thoughts and Grown-up Perspective: the title track will be enough to keep your pointy-toed sh**-kickers tapping for a long time to come. This country girl sends up an enthusiastic “yeee-HAW!” for Brad Paisley!

Myra Melford & Satoko Fujii: “Under the Water” – I am a Myra Melford devotee. I hang avidly on her every keystroke. I devour everything she records, and follow obscure fan blogs and websites for any whiff, any unsubstantiated rumour about upcoming projects or comments on her recent performances. If you’re lucky enough, every so often an artist comes along who speaks to you on such an intense and complete level that every encounter, however brief, is a completely satisfying experience. John Coltrane and Myra Melford both do that for me. But even without that connection, I think I would have enjoyed this unusual recording for the ambition of its scope and fulfillment of that vision. Under the Water is a live collaboration between Melford and a kindred creative spirit, the Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii. Piano duos are uncommon, and that fact becomes exponential when the two performers in the duo are such uncommonly extraordinary artists as Melford and Fujii. The spontaneous, free-form recital runs the spectrum from delicate, melodic runs and lively duo interplay to dark, thumping tone clusters that act as the aural equivalent of the blackened, heavy-bottomed Cumulus of summer thunderstorms. Melford’s solo exploration, Be Melting Snow, is an inspired joyride in adept pianistic effect. Five tracks in all on this CD, it’s a journey. Prepare yourself accordingly. Under the Water isn’t an easy recording to find, but you can listen to a few samples and get a copy here at the Squidco website. (Recorded live in recital, Sept. 14, 2007 at Maybeck Studio in Berkeley, CA)

2009 in the rearview, part two coming up…stay tuned…and tell me about your 2009 favorites! Leave a comment here.

trading fours: hear this – not that!

September 5, 2009
perfect 'za

perfect 'za

Today I came across one of those articles that offered a comparison of the nutritional values of pizzas at national chain restaurants. Take just a moment to ingest that basic premise, if you will…

You’ve seen this kind of thing.

As a serious pizza fanatic I couldn’t resist finding out which fared best (and, of course, worst) – and, on the morbidly curious side – how many of these nefarious bad-boy pies I have personally consumed.

Not that many, it turns out. I admit the discovery leaves me with a mix of gratefulness and some measure of disappointment. For every sodium-laden, fat-drenched unearned calorie saturating the ones that ranked (BAD, very bad. Bad. Right?),  I envisioned an equally sumptuous, completely cheesy and delicious piece of pizza perfection (mmmmmm).

I dwelled for a while on the path (artery?) not taken, and ultimately decided my longevity was probably better off for the missed experience. I guess.

Articles like this pop up fairly frequently. Part of the larger nutritional awareness movement underway now, popularized with books like Eat This, Not That! Thousands of Simple Food Swaps that Can Save You 10, 20, 30 Pounds–or More!

Since I couldn’t spend the next half hour wading in melted pizza bliss I refocused (much more healthful) to consider what my choices would be for a recorded music equivalent: “Hear This, Not That! Simple Sound Swaps that Can Save You 10, 20, 30 Wasted Hours–or More!”

If you had to choose – I hope you don’t – between the Istvan Kertesz/London Symphony or Kubelik/Berlin Philharmonic recordings of the Dvořák 9th symphony – which would you pick? Very difficult to say, or even make a compelling case for recommending one over the other. They’re both benchmark performances of the work.

Same idea with Coltrane’s My Favorite Things, in the 1961 studio version vs. some of the live ones, like the 1963 Newport recording. You have to hear both. In personnel alone, the tune takes on very different colors with the Newport group, where bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Roy Haynes replace Steve Davis and Elvin Jones from the original studio ensemble. Add to that the live dynamic and there’s really no comparison here.

But sometimes these choices are more clear, and that’s the launching point for this edition of Trading Fours. Save yourself the empty calories and wasted time wading through disappointing, unfulfilling listening. Check these out.

Von Karajan's landmark 1963 Beethoven set

#1 – Beethoven’s complete symphony cycle (Herbert Von Karajan) – The infamous, narcissistic, perfectionist, genius – choose your adjective – German conductor Herbert Von Karajan recorded four complete Beethoven cycles in his long career. The first set was recorded from 1953-56 (w/The Philharmonia Orchestra); the next from 1961-2 (with his favorite orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic); a third came along from 1975-77 (Berlin Phil.); and the last was recorded from 1982-85 (yet again with Berlin). Assuming you’ll want to get one of these (only one) and save the rest of your budget for the next three recommendations here – which Beethoven set to pick? You want the second set, released in 1963, for how it so completely embodies one single word: firepower. These recordings reveal a young Von Karajan as a powerful leader capable of getting the very most from his orchestra. There is a rawness and urgency present here that gives each symphony a thrilling edginess. The longer he worked with Berlin the smoother and more synthesized their sound became, until you get to the 1980s (recordings his like two “Adagio” CDs come to mind) and it’s so rich and refined it’s beautiful, but very nearly drained of the personality that makes the 1963 set so special. Don’t be misled by the ‘newer (recent) is better’ perception when it comes to choosing recordings. This outstanding 1960s set is how you want to hear Beethoven.

TradingFours4-GoodNews#2 – “Good News” – 100 Gospel Greats – Need the Word? Sure you do. Every good music collection needs some great gospel. Choosing one recording isn’t easy, there are a lot of artist collections and anthologies available. I’ve chosen Good News for its variety, its depth and range, and – honestly – its disproportionate value for the modest price. Let me back up just a minute: the UK’s Proper Records is a terrific company, the self-described “home for roots music on the net”. A quick A-Z review of their roster reveals everything from Gene Autry and Chet Atkins, to Thelonious Monk and the Mills Brothers to “Zah, Zuh, Zaz: an Introduction to Cab Calloway”. They license music from the artist archives, and reissue it in nicely packaged, highly curated, very affordable collections. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of their boxes going for more than $25-30 retail, and even if you don’t find a cheaper used or discount copy, it’s still worth every bit of that. Think of it this way: when you spend $25 for this set, if you follow the iTunes model of .99 cents per tune, you’re getting 100 songs here for roughly .25 cents apiece. Can’t beat it.

Good News is a 4-CD, 100-song set that works its way chronologically from the earliest material (1926: the Birmingham Jubilee Singers) to the most recent on disc 4 (1951: Five Blind Boys of Mississippi) and makes a lot of important stops along the way with artist like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Mahalia Jackson, the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, and many earlier groups in the Southern gospel ‘jubilee’ and ‘harmony’ traditions. It’s fun. It rocks. And if it’s the only gospel you have in your collection I’m convinced you’ll be completely happy with it.

TradingFours4-CityOfDreams#3 – City of Dreams: A Collection of New Orleans Music – One of the big labels for New Orleans artists is Rounder Records. Since the very beginning in 1970, their focus has been the sound of America: blues, bluegrass, folk, jazz, Cajun, and various other (African, Caribbean) world genres. Don’t all of those styles, together, also describe the unique confluence that informs the sound of the Big Easy? They sure do. You’ll hear all of those influences in the label’s recent City of Dreams anthology, with favorites like Marcia Ball, Irma Thomas, Ruth Brown and the Professor Longhair to the deeper cuts that really inform the heart of the collection. Like Eddie Bo’s soulful Hard Times, Bo Dollis’ Shoo-fly, and highlights from New Orleans piano legends James Booker and Tuts Washington, whose touching Do You Know What It Means? closes out the collection as the last track on the last disc. You’ll find that Dreams holds a good sampling of second-line brass band music, Delta blues, r & b, funk, and a whole lotta soul. There’s no way one single anthology – any anthology –  could wrap its arms comprehensively around all of the complex cultural influences at play in the music of a city like New Orleans. (Not that there are any other cities like that.) But this collection goes a long way to offer more than the usual superficial “best of” hit parade, it satisfyingly digs deeper to reveal much of the underlying artistry of the N.O. ‘sound’.

TradingFours4-Vivaldi4Seasons#4 – Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (Rinaldo Alessandrini/Concerto Italiano) – This an interesting one, with some surprisingly divisive opinions to consider and navigate in choosing the recording that’s right for your collection. The most popular music Vivaldi wrote, it’s lovely and lyrical and there’s probably no part of it you wouldn’t recognize, even out of context. That speaks to the music itself. But, for performances of the Seasons, take a look at ArkivMusic where there are more than 200 recordings currently available. Which one of those 200+ is the right one for you? That’s where the controversy enters the picture. Ongoing academic research and discovery in the area of  ‘period’ performance practices has led to the divided house that now exists in regard to how this music is actually played. With vibrato (for many years the standard for Western classical music) or without (as it would have been performed and experienced in the pre-Baroque and Baroque eras, when this music was written)? With a big, full-bodied modern orchestra, or with the smaller chamber ensemble that would have been the standard in Vivaldi’s day? Tuned to the “440” pitch standard of the contemporary concert orchestra, or, to the “415-419” of the Baroque era? On modern instruments, or with the actual instruments (and faithful replicas thereof) from the Baroque?

You just wanted a nice recording of the Four Seasons. You didn’t know there would be so many decisions involved to find one. OK, well, before I recommend this one for you I will mention that I tend to prefer the ‘period’ performances, with their lighter touch, transparent textures, and often slightly faster tempi. There are wonderful recordings of the Seasons that find something of a balance, featuring modern instruments and orchestras with a soft ear toward the ‘authentic performance’ sensibilities: recordings with violinists Gil Shaham, Gidon Kremer, Joshua Bell, Julia Fischer are very nice and meet that standard to my ear. There are period ensembles that offer very nice, if not wildly adventurous performances: the English Concert, the Academy of Ancient Music, and the Raglan Baroque Players are of this variety. Then there are “the Italians”; groups that follow the ‘period’ performance path and offer raw, viscerally exciting readings that strip away the accumulated years of varnish and offer the music in a bracing, fresh context. (Which is kind of funny, really, when you consider the ‘fresh’ context is a style hundreds of years old!) Ensembles like Europa Galante, La Stravaganza, Il Giardino Armonico, Accademia Bizantina, and the Venice Baroque Orchestra fall into this second camp. So do Concerto Italiano, with their director Rinaldo Alessandrini.

At the great risk of planting my flag irreversibly in the ‘period’ music camp, it is this last recording I am recommending. Unapologetically. There is much color, nuance, and capacity for a new listening experience, even in pieces like these you’ve already heard many times. It takes the right recording to make that point. I’m offering this one as my choice because it gave me that experience the first time I heard it (and, in repeated listening). I heard – actually heard – Vivaldi anew again in this lively, articulate, passionate recording with the Concerto Italiano. That doesn’t happen very often.

I can’t offer this suggestion as THE definitive, one-and-only Four Seasons recording, because that would presume I had heard them all (not the case). And, there’s so much diversity in the different performance styles among the many groups who have recorded these concertos. But it’s sure a good place to start, and if you like it, and you decide you really only need one Four Seasons in your archive, it would be an equally fine place to stop.

(By the way, for a concise history of tuning practices, take a look at this article.)

That’s it for this edition of Trading Fours. We started with pizza and ended with Vivaldi (so it goes!), and what I hope will be some very satisfying listening experiences for you. Happy Labor Day weekend!

Trading Fours is an occasional series here designed to build your music library and share ideas about favorite recordings, in the long tradition of learning about music from friends. If you have picks to share leave a comment here. Send me your four choices along with a quick explanation of the theme that holds them together. I’ll do the rest and get them posted here to share with everyone else.



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