New Classical Tracks

New Classical Tracks: A personal approach to the music of Vivaldi

Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra, 'Vivaldi: The 4 Seasons'.© 2015 BIS.


New Classical Tracks: Richard Tognetti, 'The Four Seasons'

4:59


April 22, 2015

Richard Tognetti & the Australian Chamber Orchestra - Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (Bis)

Australian violinist, conductor and composer Richard Tognetti has been the artistic director of the Australian Chamber Orchestra since he was 25 years old.

"One half of my life I've been associated with the ACO," he says. "And for most of my musical life, I've played in small orchestras, in chamber orchestras so … I don't know any other life. It was a totally different beast back then. We've expanded the repertoire from very early music all the way through to collaborations with people who are in the rock-n-roll world, which is a very post-modern way to commission, but one that keeps our music alive and vibrant. Jonny Greenwood's piece certainly typifies that."

On its current tour, the Australian Chamber Orchestra is presenting the U.S. premiere of a new work by Jonny Greenwood, who's a composer and one of the members of the rock band Radiohead.

As it mark its 40th anniversary, the Australian Chamber Orchestra also puts its own stamp on an iconic set of concertos by Antonio Vivaldi. Tognetti says his passion for Vivaldi stems back to a revelation he had when he discovered the early music movement as a kid.

"So I got into the music movement very early on because I thought they were wonderful pioneers and revolutionaries," he says. "Rather than looking at this ancient music in an authentic way, I just thought it was vibrant. I worked with Christopher Hogwood, Frans Bruggen, Anner Bylsma, who's one of the very best and one of the great cellists still alive and Ton Koopman, and the list goes on. And I loved the squeaking and squawking that came out of the wind instruments and the courage that a lot of those players had with their hardware.

Richard Tognetti
Australian violinist, conductor and composer, Richard Tognetti
Paul Henderson-Kelly

"I started putting on gut strings, not because I wanted to be authentic — I can't stand that word because it implies that others are inauthentic. But I just loved the sound of gut and then I found out that actually Heifetz, Menuhin, and Elman, three of my favorite violinists, used gut, of course."

As you listen to the Australian Chamber Orchestra's new Vivaldi recording, Tognetti says you'll hear a hybrid approach, where early music brushes up against a more romantic approach. "Although it's not marked, in the last movement of 'Autumn,' the sonnets, possibly written by Vivaldi himself, describe this hunt and this wounded, pained animal," he explains. "So I go roaring up the G string about three quarters of the way through as the animal dies, I really try to bring this to life. But I really interpret the music with increased speed as the hunting party is underway and gets faster and faster, even though it doesn't say that in the original score. So that's an interpretation and that is a romantic approach, rather than being just the text that's important."

As a gentle breeze floats over the sleeping hunters in the second movement, Tognetti explains how the orchestra brings this interpretation to life. "We've got a harpsichord and a chitarrone, a lute, a theorbo," he says. "And we really emphasize the continuo — not to say that other groups haven't. But for me it was all about getting this bass line really working well and a real depth to the bass line, because the stronger the bass line, the easier it is for us violinists to be lyrical."

You probably have a favorite of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, and when pressed, Tognetti does, too. "It's probably 'Summer'," he says. "I think the violence that comes through in 'Summer' is so infectious. The rambunctious quality that Vivaldi brings has traveled all the way through to pop songs of today, which is amazing. So I think all of that rambunctious character — the cycling fifths that he uses so well, the rhythmic vitality, the extreme dynamics, the way he has programmed his music in reflecting the season of summer … yeah, I'd say 'Summer.' And the exquisite melodic line in the second movement and the contrast of dynamics is amazing, too!"

In addition to the Four Seasons, there are five other concertos by Vivaldi on this new release, and Richard Tognetti says each one is unique. "Look, what's amazing about Vivaldi — unlike the Stravinsky quote that says he wrote one concerto 300 times, which I think is really unfair — is the vastly different characters between the different concertos," Tognetti says. "There's this one movement from this disc that sounds like Hungarian Gypsy music — it's got this sort of drone on it. And that's what comes to mind when I hear this music — a very personal approach, but nevertheless one that proves that Vivaldi wasn't just repeating himself."

A personal approach to the music of Vivaldi, a Baroque composer with his own voice — that's what you'll find on this new recording with Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra.