Is classical music performed too fast?

Posted on Wed 25 April 2018 in Articles

Every now and then, being at home with kids I put on some music they've never heard before. I always try different genres - rock, blues, jazz, even hip hop. This time I've chosen one of my favorites, the renowned classic of classics: Antonio Vivaldi's Four Seasons.

But the first notes of the "Spring" made me shiver. "This doesn't sound right! It sounds... too fast?" Seems that the first search results in Spotify yielded the recording of 1999, conducted by Fabio Biondi, Europa Galante orchestra.

But there were more to discover. "Sinkovsky Plays and Sings Vivaldy" was the next search result. Oh my! What is your rush man? It is played so fast that makes enjoying the music impossible. It felt like I've been given the best of the world's delicacies and have only two minutes to taste them all. Don't get me wrong - the technique is impressive! But where is the soul in all that?

And there are many more performances that sound too paced. For example La Serenissima / Adrian Chandler (2015), and even Nigel Kennedy (1989).

I made a simple experiment: searched for "four seasons summer g minor" in Spotify and sorted the results by duration. After manually narrowing the results to the third part of the "Summer" - I found myself gazing upon a 45 seconds difference between the slowest (Takako Nishizaki, Capella Istropolitana, Stephen Gunzenhauser) and the fastest (Giuliano Carmignola, Venice Baroque Orchestra) performances! From 3m 07s to 2m 22s!

My overall impression of listening to the faster-paced performances was somewhat of standing in the middle of a stock exchange at a rush hour. Instruments are screaming, vulgarly interrupting each-other, not letting one another to finish the parts.

Is it the speed of our age that influences tempo that much? Or is it me, being used to the slower performance of "Four Seasons"?