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HIPster Wars - News from the Vivaldi Front,
This review is from: Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (Audio CD)
`Are you sure it's a good idea - this exhibition of Entartete Musik (Degenerate Music) in Munich?' Ernst Hogwood-Blofeld grouched down the phone. Truth to tell, the Number One of SPECTRE (Sinister Period-Practice Enacted to Counter Traditional Readings Everlastingly) was somewhat flustered as he spoke: his personal assistant, Sandra Piau, was standing next to his desk and ready to take dictation by hand.
`Of course it is,' Father Melchizedek OP, the High Priest of Period Practice and Chaplain of SPECTRE, replied back shrilly in falsetto. `People must be shown the light whether they like it or not. And for them to understand what light is, they must glimpse the dark. That means the contagion of Karajanism!'
`What makes you think anyone will attend this event?'
`Number One, as you know, any performance which is not historically informed is now contraband. Much of it has been confiscated and sent to the incinerator. The masses will attend, if only from a sense of the macabre!'
`Yes yes, that's all very interesting. Now look: something has just come up, padre! I have to go. Just make it work! I don't want any mess left behind! Opphs!'
The line went dead. The cleric turned to his trusty manservant.
`Well Cato, this is going to be my finest hour. What an array of degenerate filth I have assembled. People need to understand that if they don't like hearing Bach being played on the harpsichord, they don't like Bach at all. Accordingly I have assembled some of the most hyper-romantic readings on the market: Richter, Kempff, Weissenberg and Backhaus. Glenn Ghoul will also be represented - poor delusional fool that he was! Worse still, I acquired a copy of the Herbert von Anti-Christ and the Berlin Sponge Cakes playing Vivaldi's Four Season, Corelli's Christmas Concerto and the so-called Adagio by Albinoni. How nauseating it is! We'll play it on repeat in the main hall. Perhaps we should keep some body-bags handy! It's not for sensitive souls!'
Come the great day, queues of people lined the streets around the exhibition centre. While there were a few odd-bods and wannabe counter-tenors among their number, most of them looked like normal concert-attendees who wanted nothing more than to engage with great music. With his pectoral cross gleaming in the sun, Father Melchizedek OP called for quiet, led a prayer to St David of Munrow and then threw open the main doors. The crowed filed in. Soon afterwards, various performances of Bach on the piano could be heard with Vivaldi playing in the background. Lest he be contaminated by such romanticism, the High Priest of Period Practice stayed outside where he preened himself on the flashlights of the SPECTRE media which were out in force to cover the event. Ex Cathedra comments were legion. That left Cato to his own devices. He wandered through the exhibition. Truth to tell, he is partial to Bach on both the piano and the harpsichord - why be doctrinaire? Out of the blue, someone tamped him on the shoulder.
`Excuse me. I really should not be saying this. It could get me in real trouble with the SPECTRE Thought-Police. But you look like someone I can trust.'
`What is it, brother?' Cato replied back jovially.
`I have always enjoyed this version of the Four Seasons,' the stranger said in a whisper. `Sure, it sounds a bit like Bruckner but pedantic I ain't. It was recorded in August 1972 when Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic holidayed in Switzerland together. It's vital, poetic and surprisingly lithe on its feet - as such, it is far more compelling than the later version that Karajan recorded with Ann-Sophie Mutter and the Vienna Philharmonic towards the end of his life. The soloist here, Michel Schwalbe', plays a Stradivarius and memorably at that. The Seasons are masterfully characterised - the close of Spring sounds like a vernal dance of the dryads. There is no self-indulgence here: this is a master orchestra and conductor measuring themselves against truly great music and giving their all. I used to play the Corelli after attending Midnight Mass - no other performance better conveys the expectancy that the Christ-Child is about to be born in Bethlehem. The drama of the Albinioni is fully encompassed. Throughout all three performances, the Berlin Philharmonic plays luxuriantly. The DG engineers earnt their money on the day: there is plenty of detail to the orchestral playing and the overall ensemble does not sound too bloated. Indeed, the recording has aged well. Do you know where I can get a copy, please?'
The stranger flashed a tenner. Cato winked.
`Brother, I will be back in a jiffy. There's an office upstairs. Stay here!'
Sensing an untapped market, Cato quickly burnt a dozen copies of the Four Seasons and then returned to the hall. They sold like hot-cakes. A second batch of fifty went just as quickly. The rest of the day was spent feeding the insatiable demand. Come closing time, Cato's pockets were bulging with cash.
`Well My trust manservant,' Father Melchizedek purred after they had locked up for the night, `that was a triumph and a half. It will propel me up the ranks of SPECTRE! It calls for a celebration. Where shall we eat? It's my shout!'
`Don't worry about it,' Cato replied impishly. `The weak tea and alfalfa pizzas are on me!'