Allow me to be the last to praise the new (to us) Dutch violinist "on the scene" (read: with an international release on Universal Records) Janine Jansen. Her new recording of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, that well-overflogged warhorse to shame all warhorses, is nothing short of spectacular; it reminds as to why this piece has become so drastically overdone. Brace yourselves: it really is an amazing work, especially as illuminated by these performers, Ms. Jansen mightily presiding. Her choice to scale back the forces to a chamber version makes this recording intimate and very special (you can hear her breathe, which adds rather than detracts); her absolute mastery, depth and variance of tone, and humble energy is what spins the performance into a dream, the dark, rich, strange phastasmagoric tour that the piece--so overplayed as to become white noise save for the most vital reading--was no doubt dreamt to be by its composer. While working on my adolescent biography of Vivaldi, I dreaded writing about this piece, and thought, after I was done, that I would be happy never to have to hear it again, so dreadfully tired was I of this turning of the seasons as scored for violin and baroque ensemble. But as I write these words, I am on my fourth consecutive listen of Ms. Jansen's version, and plan to indulge in more. There's life and illumination left in the work yet.
More than her recording, I was struck by the live performance I saw at SIRUS Satellite Radio, a woefully underattended chance for the New York Press (all one of me there) to become aquainted with Ms. Jansen. The revealing, come-hither, tawny-tinged photos within the CD booklet of course perhaps explain her rocketing sales on iTunes (this record is competitive with Fiona Apple and Green Day, a completely wild phenomenon in classical music), but in person at the SIRUS terrarium she came off, though undeniably attractive, a passionate, dedicated, forceful, sincere, energetic, intelligent and co-operative player: in short, the real thing. I had opportunity to hear her make short work of Beethoven's A minor sonata, Ravel's Tzigane and Bartok's Roumanian Dances, as well as answer a few insipid questions (like "Did you do a scaled down version of the Vivaldi for financial reasons? Or was it because nobody wanted to play with you?"). And what makes me the luckiest member of the classical music community tonight: I was actually there.
And hell, though we could not persuade Martha Stewart to stay, I had occassion to live a real fantasy of mine and shoot a death-glare at Howard Stern, who happened upon the concert. To his credit, overheard in New York today were these words: "She's actually really playing. She's good; she's really nailing it." I suppose he'll now ask her to appear topless on his program, and I imagine there's more than a few record collectors who'd relish the appearance. Let's hope instead she opts to play Brahms instead. Maybe Mr. Stern would like that as well.