Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (CD review)

Also, Violin Concertos RV 199, 347, 356*. Itzhak Perlman, London Philharmonic Orchestra, *Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.  EMI 50999 9 65942 2 3.

Since recordings of Vivaldi's Four Seasons appear so regularly, there's little point in my describing them. There must be a hundred discs currently available, most of them sounding pretty good, so the choice is wide open. You probably have a favorite recording of the piece, anyway, but in the event you don't, here is some gratuitous advice from one who has seen most of the last hundred recordings of the work go through his living room.

First, be aware that the standard recordings of the four violin concertos comprising The Four Seasons fall into three broad categories, depending upon ensemble: chamber groups using period instruments, chamber groups using modern instruments, and full orchestras using modern instruments. For a period group I like La Petite Bande (Sony) for their lively, small-scale interpretation and transparent sound; and the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble (BIS) for their unique style, creative playing, and equally outstanding sound. For a more-conventional period-instruments recording, a good, safe bet is the English Concert (DG Archiv), straightforward, fresh, and closely miked, but well recorded. Among chamber ensembles using modern-instruments, I like Marriner and the Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields (Decca) for their almost surrealistic approach to the score; I like I Musici's second recording with Michelucci (Philips) for their refinement and grace (and a slightly smaller ensemble); and I like Solisti Italiani (Denon) for their no-nonsense presentation.

Which brings us in long-winded fashion to full-orchestral accounts using modern instruments and the disc under consideration, Itzhak Perlman's analogue LPO rendering from the mid Seventies. It is in a class of its own, and for years I have enjoyed it more than any other full-orchestral account. Now, understand, when I say full orchestra, I don't mean to suggest that the entire London Philharmonic was in on the project. The booklet insert does not say how many members of the orchestra participated, but I suspect the group had been pared down a bit, making the sound slightly leaner than it might have been otherwise. On the other hand, the accompaniment appears considerably fuller than on any of the chamber recordings, so I'm counting this as a full-orchestral account.

Perlman is the solo violinist and the conductor in the performance, and the whole affair is as satisfying today as when I first heard it over thirty years ago. I've owned it on LP and on several previous CDs, and it continues to impress me. The interpretation may not be as vigorous as some of its smaller-ensemble rivals, but there's a elegance and serenity about it that's hard to resist. It is a smooth, relaxed, unforced, effortless reading that goes a long way toward negating any criticism of the work.

What's more, EMI's analogue audio (recorded in 1976, digitally remastered in 1987, and reissued here in 2010) is vintage EMI, among the best you will find in this piece. Admittedly, there isn't a lot of deep bass or sonic impact, but there doesn't need to be; nor is there a lot of depth to the sound stage, but, again, there doesn't need to be. The violin is well integrated into the acoustic field, in front of the orchestra but not sitting in our laps, and the violin tone is pure and natural. It's clean, warm, clear sound that does nothing but contribute to one's enjoyment of the music.

EMI recorded the three companion pieces--Violin Concertos RV 199, 347, and 356-- digitally a few years later (1982-83) with the Israel Philharmonic, and the sonics seem a bit edgier to my ears than the earlier analogue.. Nonetheless, they make good fill-ups.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

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.

Mission Statement

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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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa