In terms of the music of Antonio Vivaldi, there are probably no more recognizable pieces than the four violin concertos, known collectively as I quatro stagione (The Four Seasons). Indeed, they have achieved the status of being quite iconic in the repertory, both in live performance and on disc, for their descriptive movements, all based upon four sonnets, possibly by Vivaldi himself. There is little that one can say about these concertos, save that they have been recorded so often that anything new has to be quite unique in order to compete; and here I don’t necessarily include complete sets of the entire opus, which have a more documentary purpose by and large.
Harpist Keziah Thomas has decided to revisit these iconic works in a new guise, this time arranged solely for harp. Of course, they can be done easily and without alteration by a mandolin ensemble (of all sizes), but to do them with a harp is a new twist. There is something light and airy about the opening of Spring, with a bright tinkling of the ritornello and an easy trilling as the birds appear. The murmuring sequences of the brook in the lower registers leads to a flashy set of upward glissandos. The second movement is pensive and lyrical, with a slowly rustling accompaniment in the rustling lower strings, and the finale, a pastoral dance, ripples with fluid chords and arpeggiation. In Summer, the rolling chords provide a somnambulant atmosphere and the interrupting bird calls harken to a magical space, where they are distant and pensive, only to be metamorphosed into a set of sequences, the thunderstorm, that dissipates quickly. The second movement floats ethereally along, portending the third movement thunderstorm with its flashy downwards spiraling runs. Autumn begins with a joyous and nicely contrasting set of registers and dynamics, all above a rather static base. The central portion fairly ripples, like a fluid stream. The Adagio is suitably dreamy and distant, while the final Allegro marches along in a steadily plodding dance, interrupted by swift and sparkling interludes. The solo portions seem to herald a trumpet call. In Winter, the close and harsh harmonies of the opening are supported by a rolling accompaniment but proceed steadily. This makes the solo portion burst forth like a musical fountain. The second movement is like a pale aria, with a lyrical line that seems fluid and liquid. The finale is suitably mysterious with its quasi-improvisatory moments and bits of sparkle. The final moments are like the flurries of ice whipping through the musical forest.
If I am waxing somewhat metaphorically here, it is because this arrangement views the sonnets in something of a new interpretive light. I would not have thought a harp could bring out such interesting nuances to this well-worn music, but Thomas has created an arrangement that I think would have obtained Vivaldi’s approval. At about 48 minutes, the disc is short, perhaps a bit too, but it does maintain one’s interest, never becoming mundane or static. Her interpretation is bright and clear, and one can easily hear the depictions contained therein. If you want something that is excellently done and off the beaten track, but easily accessible of a quartet of old saws, this is a disc that you should have.