Vivaldi: The Four Seasons

Vivaldi: The Four Seasons

For French violin supremo Renaud Capuçon, every recording is a special event. He waits until the time is right, and then gives it “110 percent.” That’s why it’s taken a little while to get around to Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. “I played it a couple of times in my mid-twenties,” he tells Apple Music, “but then it seemed to be everywhere—on the Paris Métro, on the phone. You couldn’t get away from it. Then I had the opportunity to perform it with the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra, and I literally fell in love with this incredible, phenomenal music. The Four Seasons is Baroque rock ’n’ roll, but in a good way!” It also provided a perfect opportunity to direct from the violin. Capuçon recently “caught the conducting bug” with performances of Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” and Prokofiev’s “Classical” symphonies, and now there’s simply no stopping him. “It feels like an entirely natural development for me,” he enthuses. “It’s such a bracing experience to be working with other musicians, with you at the center of the music. I wouldn’t say conducting gives you more sensations than when you play an instrument, but it gives you different sensations. And when you play and conduct, as on my ‘live’ recording of Vivaldi and Saint-Georges, it is especially rewarding. Although you have a double responsibility, you also feel freer in your own playing because your concentration and imagination expands outwards rather than focusing just on what you are doing.” Something that is especially striking about Capuçon’s playing on his new recording is his exquisite use of vibrato and the way he produces an intoxicating range of colors simply by changing bow angle, pressure, and speed. “Vibrato is a very personal part of who you are as a musician—it is your very soul,” he says. “I use a subtly different kind of vibrato for every composer and every piece. But for obtaining infinitesimal shades of tonal color, the bowing arm is key, especially in a work as picturesque as the Vivaldi. I spent 10 years studying with Veda Reynolds, who herself was a student of the great violin teachers Carl Flesch, Ivan Galamian, and Efrem Zimbalist. Most of Veda’s teaching was about how to use the right arm with heightened flexibility in conjunction with tiny fluctuations in the rate of vibrato, in order to enhance the range of colors available.” Whereas mainstream performances of The Four Seasons tend to play to the gallery in extrovert fashion, Capuçon obtains a rare degree of chamber-scale intimacy. “This was something that came very naturally,” he reveals, “because the members of the orchestra and I feel very close—we have a natural empathy and understanding. We eat together and share everything. And because we come from similar musical backgrounds, in rehearsal we actually talk very little because it’s as though we know exactly what each other is thinking. It’s an entirely natural, organic, spontaneous process. It helps that when playing concertos, I’ve never had a soloist fantasy or fixation, which can completely destroy the music, but always enjoy working as a team with my colleagues.” The idea of coupling the The Four Seasons with two concertos by the Black 18th-century violinist/composer Chevalier de Saint-Georges came about almost by accident. “I first played a string quartet by Saint-Georges when I was 12,” Capuçon recalls, “and ever since then, I’d wondered why his name wasn’t better-known. He was a wonderful composer, and his music has a lot of joy and energy, so I thought this was a perfect opportunity to put him firmly back on the musical map. When we first played them, we tried interspersing each of the Vivaldi’s seasons with a Saint-Georges concerto, and although I think The Four Seasons ultimately sound better together as a group, as on the album, that was enough to convince us to make it a ‘live’ recording.” Although the Saint-Georges pieces lie reasonably well under the fingers, they are by no means easy to play. “I don’t mind admitting that an awful lot of work went into those concertos,” Capuçon smiles. “They might not be Paganini level, but they easily surpass Mozart’s concertos. They really are quite tricky in places, and they make real demands on intonation.” One of the unexpected features of the Saint-Georges concertos is their lack of solo cadenzas in the outer movements. However, the central “Largo” of No. 9 leaves room for a little improvisation, and here Capuçon plays a short passage from Vivaldi’s “Summer” (which is in the same key of G minor), as though it were the most natural thing in the world. “When we were preparing the concertos for the concerts,” says Capuçon, “I was improvising one day and suddenly found my fingers instinctively playing the Vivaldi. The orchestra fell about laughing, but we felt it worked so well in the end that I thought we’d keep it in for the album.”

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