Eight seasons were performed at St George’s Bristol by the Oxford Philomusica: in this different approach to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, they added Ástor Piazzolla’s The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. The concept behind the concert was to combine old and new worlds of classical music, comparing works from the 18th and 20th centuries based on similar structures, and four sonnets depicting the seasons. Instead of playing both works separately, the seasons were treated as separate entities, each performed by different soloists.

Marios Papadopoulos conducting Oxford Philomusica
Marios Papadopoulos conducting Oxford Philomusica

Having different soloists for each season worked well, and allowed the separate playing styles to define the different nature of each season. Piazzolla hints at the main themes from Vivaldi. At the end of Piazzolla’s Primavera Porteña, a small excerpt from Vivaldi’s La Primavera echoes on the harpsichord. Being able to hear the two “springs” alongside each other meant that the intrinsic links were much more audible as Vivaldi’s original version was fresh in our minds. The indulgent melodies in the Piazzolla contrasted perfectly with the more concise and satisfying resolutions of themes in the Vivaldi.

The harpsichord underpinned the orchestra without being invasive; and Steve Neugarten did a good job of playing the continuo part without leading the orchestra too much. Sometimes I find that the harpsichord can tend to sound “tinny” with a string orchestra, but for this concert the sound was perfectly balanced. The dynamics of the pieces varied from filling the room to solo melodies. The Piazzolla seasons employ many varied playing techniques that were technically challenging and also interesting to watch. Each of the seasons opened with the back of the bass being tapped in a percussive manner. The composer also uses a device where the strings are slapped on the instrument in the Verano Porteña and the bow scrubs to make a scratching sound amongst many glissandi. Known best for his famous tangos, it is easy to spot the dance inspiration in Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. The catchy and memorable rhythms were offset well with the memorable tunes of the Vivaldi Four Seasons.

Each of the violin soloists had their own playing style and sound quality to their instrument. Anna-Liisa Bezrodny had a rich, sumptuous tone suited to the optimistic opening melodies of spring, whereas Yuri Zhislin had a sharper quality to his sound, more suited to the lightness of summer.

The concert opened with Vivaldi’s La Primavera and soloist Anna-Liisa Bezrodny. Her performance of the Largo was particularly engaging. It was played a little slower than usual but this made for an incredibly moving performance. The viola was resonant and louder than usual in this movement, but the stripped-back simplicity of the sound with a haunting melody over the top was fantastic. Bezrodny’s movement on stage added to the melody of the Primavera Porteña as she moved in sweeps with the soaring notes.

The glissando played at the end of Piazzolla’s Otoño Porteño by Carmine Lauri was impressively synchronized with the rest of the Oxford Philomusica. It was a climactic slide to finish an electric performance of the two autumnal themed works. Lauri’s playing style was certainly most suited to the heated demeanour of this particular season, where the Vivaldi seasons get more confident, the Piazzolla seasons do the same, but also get increasingly sultry. The build up of soloists led to Natalia Lomeiko to round off the evening with a true peak of explosive music. All of the soloists were brilliant but she truly was the upper crust of the evening. The passion and excitement in the winter works were conveyed by her projected tones that simply flowed with romance. Her passagework was effortless on the ear and her solo moments full of energy.

The Oxford Philomusica’s musical director Marios Papadopoulous must be commended for an individual take on The Four Seasons. Where other performances of this popular work have tended to drag, combining it with Piazzolla worked a treat and left the audience shouting “Bravo!” and stomping their feet. The artistic standards of the musicians were exceptionally high which allowed for a head-first dive into the music. There was no point in the concert where the music tired itself and as a result, this was a memorable evening which rekindled my enthusiasm for Vivaldi.

****1