Raymond Fol's jazz arrangement of Antonio Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" may have fallen into obscurity, but the French pianist's big band scoring of this classical favorite shows plenty of imagination. With a band of his fellow countrymen, along with expatriate Americans Johnny Griffin (tenor sax), bassist Jimmy Woode, and drummer Art Taylor, he casts a variety of moods, even within individual sections. In the first movement of "Le Printemps (The Spring)" he chooses an Afro-Cuban mood, while the second shifts to a smaller chamber jazz setting, showcasing guitarist Pierre Cullaz, vibraphonist Sadi, and the leader in turn.
Genius can be defined in a number of ways. One such definition is to be the right person in the right place at the right time; another is to have the capacity to move your audience to tears. Monteverdi meets both these criteria with flying colours. His professed ambition was to "move the passions of the soul," thereby drawing tears from his audience, and he achieved this with greater efficacy than any of his contemporaries. The use of the word "madrigal" on the title pages of his eight collections (and a posthumous Ninth Book from 1651) is therefore deceptive, concealing radical stylistic changes which brilliantly reflect the turbulent, exciting times in which he lived.
Back another two centuries, to 1640 and a late masterpiece by the first great figure in opera history: Claudio Monteverdi and his Il ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria – “The Return of Ulysses to his Homeland”. Raymond Leppard conducted a production at Glyndebourne in the early 1970s, based on his own edition of the textually problematic work – there are gaps in the only surviving score. Revived in 1979, the production – which has gone down in the annals of opera legend – was recorded by CBS. Gramophone’s reviewer declared the performance “gloriously vivid in humanity and splendour.
Raymond Leppard's recording . . . has remained for me the benchmark against which other recordings are measured . . . Janet Baker sings brilliantly as Ariodante. She flies through the coloratura with ease and presents a complete portrayal of the title character . . . Edith Mathis is a strong Ginevra, beautifully sung. We easily believe that she has the strength to resist Polinesso but is vulnerable enough to despair at the unjust accusations leveled against her . . . And with Samuel Ramey in his prime we have an excellent King of Scotland. (Ron Salemi, Fanfare)