Sonatore de la Gioiosa Marca; Giuliano Carmignola, violin. Divox Antiqua CDX-79404.
Another month, another recording of Antonio Vivaldi's Le Quattro Stagioni (The Four Seasons). The recordings seem to come more frequently than the actual changes of the year. It's understandable. Vivaldi's Seasons are among the handful of most-recognizable concertos ever written, so we get a plentitude of recordings of them. Not only are there probably a hundred different discs available, they come in a variety of musical styles and ensembles from very small, a handful of players, to medium-sized chamber groups to members of full-scale symphony orchestras; and the performances come on period and modern instruments. There are even transcriptions for flute and for clarinet and for other solo instruments. The choices are endless.
In the case of Sonatore de la Gioiosa Marca (a mouthful if there ever was one for such a small band), we get nine performers playing on period instruments in an original 1994 recording remastered by Divox Antiqua in 2008 using 24/96 processing. Although I had never heard the recording before, it apparently has its fans. Sonatore de la Gioiosa is a well-known name among the period-instruments crowd, especially in Europe.
The ensemble play with great zest, enthusiasm, and brawny vigor, appearing to delight in the music making. That delight is, after all, the main concern in this music, which aims to describe the seasons of the year complete with chirping birds, murmuring breezes, rustling leaves, thundering weather, baying hounds, glittering snow, chattering teeth, and breaking ice, among many other sounds of nature.
The problem I had with the interpretations, though, is that while they are all extremely well played, they all seem alike--fast and loud, with tempos so brisk they tend to rob the music of some of its subtler pictorial qualities. I mean, if the pace isn't sufficiently varied and the emphases not adequately diverse, the music just all sounds the same. At times, Sonatore de la Gioiosa Marca seem positively feverish, which may suit some of the music, to be sure, but not all of it by any means. A good example is "Winter," which should begin with a vivid evocation of the cold, with shivering nerves, icicles, and all. But it doesn't. It just starts with a rush of notes and conjures up little of the wintry scene Vivaldi had in mind. Then, following the opening movement, we get the famous Largo, which ought to be among the sweetest music ever heard, eliciting memories of cozy hearth and home. Instead, here we simply get a jaunty little tune. In a crowded field of contenders, these vigorous performances don't entirely stand up, the readings more straight-ahead than imaginative.
Nor does the sound entirely satisfy, despite its near-audiophile processing. It is robust, to be sure, and dynamic, but it, too, seems all of the same cloth, coming across as more flash than nuance. The engineers miked the small group rather closely, so everything is on top of the listener, making for some dramatic but not always realistic sonics nor a very natural acoustic.
My own preferences in this warhorse remain unchallenged: Kuijken and La Petite Bande (Sony), Sparf and the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble (BIS), and Pinnock and the English Concert (DG Archiv) for period-instruments performances; Marriner and the Academy (Decca) and I Solisti Italiani (Denon) for small, modern-instruments performances; and Perlman and members of the LPO (EMI) for a larger-scale modern-instruments performance. As for Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca, well, it's a competitive field, and, as I say, the recording is mainly for dedicated fans.
About the Author
Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.
Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.
When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.
So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.
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