Performances of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons are numerous and various yet fall into two useful, if crude, categories. One is the sort of bland aural pap force-fed to us while we wait interminably on the telephone for a customer service rep based (probably) in Timbuktu.
The second type makes us realize afresh what an amazingly inventive and entertaining piece this is. This performance on period instruments by The Musical & Amicable Society – named after a Birmingham-based 18th century musical and benevolent society – was decidedly of the latter type. Each concerto had a different soloist: Kelly McCusker (Spring), Christiane Gagelmann (Summer), Miranda Walton (Autumn) and Sophie Barker (Winter). All were vividly characterized with a cast of chirruping birds, barking dogs and galumphing rustics. Winter was especially impressive with pizzicato flickering flames and – with continuo support from Kate Fawcett (viola), Henrik Persson (cello), Kate Aldridge (bass) and Martin Perkins (harpsichord) – a bone-chilling gale.
Gagelmann and Barber were the soloists in Bach’s D minor double concerto, which had a gently affecting largo. Fawcett stepped forward for Telemann’s genial (if a little long-winded) G major concerto to successfully show, as she wryly put it, that the violist can be more than just Vivaldi’s barking dog. But the find of the evening was the Concerto Grosso No.3 by Richard Mudge; an 18th century musical cleric who was a curate in Birmingham. This four-movement work was indeed “better than second-rate Handel”, as Perkins claimed – especially the final allegro which was full of genial humour reminiscent of Haydn.