Music review: ‘Multi-Media Four Seasons’ by the Bach Sinfonia

May 8, 2011

One does not need a gimmick to justify programming an over-performed piece such as Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” but it can’t hurt. These four violin concertos have been stretched, prodded and energized according to any number of extra-musical schemes, which sometimes do little to distinguish performances that are basically interchangeable. Add to the list the “Multi-Media Four Seasons” presented by the Bach Sinfonia on Saturday night at Montgomery College’s Cultural Arts Center in Silver Spring.

The gimmick was a computer animation, designed by artists Yana Sakellion and Yan Da and projected on a large screen behind the performers. Against pedestrian season-themed backgrounds, lines from the piece’s accompanying descriptive sonnets appeared, cued to the corresponding points in the score by Artistic Director Daniel Abraham. Flocks of birds, clouds of hailstones or sprays of psychedelic flowers, in the style of the animated trail that follows your cursor on some Web sites, danced in spirals as a computer processed and reacted to the sounds made by the musicians.

Fortunately, the caliber of the musical performance was high enough that the visual sideshow could not distract from it too much. Soloist Ingrid Matthews played with virtuosic panache, if not generally at the white-knuckle tempos favored by many of the leading early music ensembles. Her ornate embellishments of Vivaldi’s melodic lines, particularly and most appropriately in the slow movements, were the musical highlights of an overall fine ensemble performance, aided by the enlivening baroque guitar strumming of William Simms.

Two other short pieces, by Locatelli and Vivaldi, without Matthews as soloist (and without video) had less flair. It was a reminder that the best way to make music interesting is to add musical interest, perhaps found at its most dramatic extreme in the recording of the “Four Seasons” by Rinaldo Alessandrini and Concerto Italiano.

Downey is a freelance writer.

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