This EMI release of The Four Seasons gives violinist Sarah Chang top billing (as would be expected) and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra a smaller, less significant listing. As far as the quality of performance goes, however, Orpheus should absolutely be considered the star of this recording with Chang getting the footnote instead. This is simply not the case; from the ridiculously posed glamour photos filling the liner notes to the balance of the performance itself, this album is all about Chang. The most fulfilling aspects are the orchestral tuttis. Orpheus is truly at its best here, playing with as much energy and passion as the much ballyhooed recording with the Venice Baroque Orchestra.
Jacques Ibert’s piano music isn’t exactly the most exciting part of his output, amounting to a series of short picturesque pieces written in a bland neo-classical vein, with just a hint of impressionism or humor here and there to liven up the expression. Lack of both imagination and strong features have kept these pieces away from the current concert repertoire, but on CD they make nice if quickly forgotten listening. The collection of Histoires, including the famous Le petit âne blanc (The Little White Donkey), comes off the best, along with Les rencontres, a little suite in the form of a ballet that displays some lively melodic figures underlined by slightly spicy harmonies, as in the softly swinging The Creoles. The other pieces do little else than round off the total timing of the CD. Hae-won Chang plays with charm and delicacy, with a clean and neat technique that is just what these unpretentious pieces require. The recording is well balanced and truthful.
While not a lot of its classical pursuits in the 2000s have panned out, Sony Classical has had good luck with violinists, thanks due to the popularity of contract player Hilary Hahn and an apparent assumption of the recording duties of the great Canadian violinist Lara St. John. This is Latvian violinist Baiba Skride's third disc, the first two being released simultaneously in 2004 and, of these, the violin solo disc – containing works by Ysayë, Bartók, and Bach – winning a German Echo Classic award.