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Tim Homfray
The Strad, February 2011

Daniel Rowland and the Stellenbosch University Camerata have been performing this spicy cocktail of eight seasons since the ensemble was formed in 2008. Piazzolla's Four Seasons, originally written for a small band with the composer himself paying bandoneon and here performed in one of a number of subsequent arrangements for string ensemble, consists of four portraits of Buenos Aires, urban counterparts to Vivaldi's portraits of rural life. Rowland and his players tackle them in a suitable frenzy of heat and colour, the quotations from Vivaldi peeking cheekily out from the potent mix of vibrant rhythms, complete with percussion, and the welter of glissandos and ponticello effects.

The Vivaldi, too, is vividly performed. In the fast movements, and they are fast, tuttis are clipped and dry. The performance conforms to the current approach to historically informed interpretation, with modern players on modern instruments taking what they will from their period colleagues. Rowland, his vibrato rich and unfettered, treats the score very much as a first draft, a basis for improvisation to be executed with a rhythmic freedom that works wonderfully in jazz, but can be unsettling in this context as he parts company from his colleagues, who are left clinging grimly to the beat. It's all good pictorial stuff, with Rowland to the fore in a resonant acoustic.

Pemi Paull
La Scena Musicale, December 2010

What to make of yet another recording of Vivaldi’s ubiquitous Four Seasons? The challenge to any performer trying to make a meaningful statement with this music is overwhelming. One way is by pairing it with another “Four Seasons”, Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, as Gidon Kremer and Lara St John have both done in recent years, in performances with modern-instrument ensembles. Daniel Rowland’s new recording for the New Zealand label, TwoPianists, follows suit. Daniel Rowland, a Dutch-born violinist with impeccable credentials, who has studied with Igor Oistrakh and Ivry Gitlis among others, is currently the leader of the London-based Brodsky String Quartet. Despite the risks involved, Rowland rises to the occasion on this release. His Vivaldi Seasons are highly engaging, giving the score an improvisatory, organic quality, creating the impression of being both polished and delightfully messy at the same time. In the Piazzolla, Rowland takes this approach even further, and you feel transported to the cafés of Latin America, with his spicy, lyrical, and off-the-cuff playing style. In a sea of recordings, this disc succeeds because it goes to great lengths to bring out the many characters of the music, always in interesting and unexpected ways.

Cinemusical, September 2010

Most every student of music history at some point will study Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (1725), the group of violin concerti unique because of Vivaldi’s attempt to paint musical pictures without words—sonnets describing the seasons append the score. It is perhaps next to the Bach Brandenburg Concertos, one of the most recorded works in the Baroque canon. Academics like to point out that though Vivaldi was credited with writing some 600 concertos that they are essentially the same concerto written 600 times with different keys or solo instruments. Such comments, coming from a musicological preference for the complex “superior” music of Northern German where the academic study of music essentially began, still cannot stem this music from being popular. For my part, Vivaldi’s work is the sort of light and exciting Baroque music that is varied enough to illustrate the primary characteristics of the period quite easily—though the need for a new recording of such a warhorse seems redundant.

To help freshen up this masterwork, chamber orchestras are beginning to program Astor Piazzolla’s modern inspiration, The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, alongside the Vivaldi (such a program will make its appearance with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in the 2010-2011 season). Piazzolla’s work, written over a period of six years in the 1960s, was originally for the sort of Argentinean folk ensemble that eventually caught the attention of worldwide audiences. The piece was conceived for bandoneon (a cousin to the accordion or concertina) with guitar, double bass and piano and has since been arranged for the same forces as the Vivaldi. The work plays out to about 25 or so minutes making it a perfect companion for its inspiration and is incorporated here alongside the Vivaldi concerti in alternation.

Daniel Rowland is a young violinist born in London but raised in the Netherlands who has been touring widely the past few years. His triumphant tour through South Africa included time to make this recording in 2008 featuring the debut ensemble the Stellenbosch University Camerata (after their enthusiastically-received concert of this same music). The ensemble is made up of faculty and students.

“Spring” practically bursts forth in a rush of energy that at times veers dangerously close to being out of control. It seems to come from the school of thought that playing the music faster somehow adds intensity. Fortunately, Rowland’s approach to the solo part is equally energetic perhaps giving a glimpse of the red-haired priest’s own musical personality. The ensemble manages to keep up fairly well with Rowland in the opening movement though the bird calls do not come off quite as well (the music is simply zipping by too quickly for it to come off well). The overall crispness of the performance though is to be admired. The opening of “Summer” has the proper languidness before it too zips along. Again, the virtuosity of Rowland’s playing is not to be denied. The speed at which the music moves by at the ability to hit the proper pitches is at times exhilarating, and no doubt was in concert. There are moments when the listener can be drawn into the music again without being distracted by the histrionics. The slower musical moments allow us to hear Rowland’s ability to shape longer musical lines with greater sensitivity in this concerto in particular. The echo effects work quite well in the concluding movement. It was in the “Autumn” concerto where the lack of a consistent beat seemed to be the first indication of what was causing problems in the earlier concerti. Again it is slight but enough of a problem to cause some moments of less than perfect ensemble that some might be percieving as “tension” in the performance itself. Strangely, this seems to infect the first movements only. The dotted rhythmic patterns of “Autumn’s” final movement are simply wonderful. “Winter” opens with the orchestra sounding a bit too recessed at first. Again, the opening movement has trouble maintaining a consistent tempo though at least this time the ensemble is tighter. The ensuing “Largo” is taken too fast. Irregular tempo is also a problem for the final movement as well.

Piazzolla’s music has its own sort of intensity and unbelievably engaging power and it is here where Rowland’s virtuosic approach works quite well. The rhythms are quite sharp and the Vivaldi quotations are evenly matched to his approach in the early music. The music of “Verano Porteno” allows Rowland a greater opportunity for more sensuous melodic playing coupled with crisp rhythmic articulation. “Otono Porteno” has a wonderful moment for solo cello in its opening bars, derived from the Vivaldi, that works well as breath catching while finding new ways to extend the opening slow introduction of its inspiration in a sinuously unfolding tango. The solo violin line here explores the extremes of the instruments register, especially at its top end, which makes for a great contrast to the more limited range of the Baroque period. This movement is a bit more frenetic as it plays out and ends with a dissonant accented chord. “Invierno Porteno” is marked “Andante Moderato” and is another of Piazzolla’s beautiful tango melodies with expressive playing by soloist and ensemble. It features some of the richest Hollywood-ish harmonies as well of the four works. “Primavera Portena” brings the disc to a close with its impassioned musical slides and brusque rhythms. Piazzolla’s concert works do tend to clump together indistinguishably at times and there are plenty of melodic ideas in this work that will recur in other variations later. This piece though is equally engaging and exciting filled with just enough balance between long melodic lines and quick-paced moments.

The CD progresses by presenting the Vivaldi concerto and then Piazzolla’s reimagining piece. As the latter work may be unfamiliar to most, it allows for new listeners to hear the connections that might have been overlooked. It is for that performance that many will want to seek out this release. It is hard to fault the student ensemble that performs quite admirably here. Overall, it seems as if many chamber orchestras being “led” by a soloist are more interested in seeing how fast and technically perfect they can get a familiar piece to sound but this is often at the detriment of the music itself. (This was the case of a recent St. Paul Chamber Orchestra performance of a Beethoven symphony that careened dangerously out of control many times.) If nothing else, Rowland’s performances remind us that these are not tired pieces but concerti of great virtuoso requirements, though one wonders if playing them like a Paganini-possessed exercise is always the right direction.

The slower movements of the Vivaldi show that Rowland is a fine violinist capable of great expression and beauty. The fast movements equally show ability for edge-of-the-seat virtuosity though this is at times detrimental to the music. It does create an exciting performance of the Four Seasons however that at least does not simply repeat another bland traversal of a familiar work. No, Rowland’s recording of the Vivaldi is the antithesis of bland and when it works it is truly amazing. The Piazzolla’s fire and intensity is truly the highlight of this release and its spilling over into the Vivaldi will be the determining factor in one’s own appreciation and enjoyment of the earlier work. In 20 years or so, it will be interesting to see Rowland revisit the Vivaldi again to see what has changed in his approach to the work re-evaluated in his own playing as his musical interpretation matures.

MTN South African Music Awards, March 2010

Winner of MTN South African Music Award 2010 in the category of Best Popular Classical Album.

Die Burger, September 2008

Stylish, tasteful and impeccable—but this was so much more: here was deep musical understanding that ranged from tender intimacy to the greatest excitement, always backed up by an

Astonishing technical ability.

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