I suspect that the chief attraction for many who stumble upon this excellent disc would be yet another recording of Vivaldi's evergreen "Four Seasons" concerto set. And yet, the producers at fledgling label Barn Cottage Records do all music lovers a great service by placing them on the latter half of the program, thus allowing listeners to explore some Vivaldi that they likely haven't heard.
The "Four Seasons" are only the first in a set of 12 concertos, with the latter eight nowhere near as popular or individual. Depending on tempos and interpretive choices, another few violin concertos usually fit on a CD to follow the set – either by Vivaldi or his immediate contemporaries. Here, BCR makes an inspired choice by choosing three recorder concertos of varying keys and moods, fleshing out some of the composer's notoriously large concerto output. It also showcases the very interesting Martin Feinstein and his six-member period instrument ensemble. A jazz pianist turned baroque flautist, Feinstein has a lovely tone and a great deal of fun playing these works. Articulation is superb, all the parts come through clearly, and the commitment to this project is undisputed.
In the violin concerti, competition is fierce, and I must express that I hardly needed another recording of these pieces, even as the young collector that I am. No fear, for the same excitement and sense of fun in the wind concerti shines here as well. In many respects, this release reminds me most of Giuliano Carmignola's amazing Sony performance, one which seemingly everyone – and this includes friends and family – is impressed by. That version – in addition to terrific solo work and ensemble support – turned heads because of the risks it took to make this work sound new. Soloist Catherine Manson plays things a touch safer here, but fast movements dazzle, slow movements are swift and tender, and there's a sense of discovery that can also be found on that Sony release. Given the size of the Feinstein Ensemble, I was thrilled that nothing sounded underpowered or thin. And unlike some period performances, nothing was ugly. Manson does struggle with her intonation at high speeds, but the whole program is incredibly convincing.
Sonic quality is excellent and the inner notes are informative and interesting. Barn Cottage Records took a big risk by making this program one of its first ten releases, but based on what is on display here, it was a risk well worth taking, and certainly a reason to keep an eye on this label going forward. Excellent.
Copyright © 2012, Brian Wigman