Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (CD review)

Jochen Brusch, violin; Sven-Ingvart Mikkelsen, organ. TIM Scandinavian Classics 220577-205.

Although Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) wrote more pieces of music than any normal person should have been capable of producing, people will no doubt continue to know him best for his Four Seasons violin concertos, the little tone poems with their chirping birds, galumphing horses, barking hounds, and dripping icicles. The music lover has about 800 different recordings to choose from at any given time, and that number changes almost weekly as new discs arrive on the scene. Naturally, it takes an extraordinary recording to make a dent in the avalanche of discs cascading down on them, and you have to admit that a transcription of the Seasons for violin and organ is different, even if it is not really extraordinary.

In these violin-and-organ arrangements by organist Sven-Ingvart Mikkelsen, the violin is well out in front of its companion instrument, which seems in a larger, more spacious acoustic. Nevertheless, the organ fills in the details, the sound effects if you will, quite imaginatively. And, of course, it adds a solid bass foundation for the concertos often not found in traditional renderings.

The opening movement of "Spring" is quite zesty, with the sparkle and freshness of new beginnings. Then, the Largo appears practically mournful, making one of the most-pronounced opposites I think I've ever heard in this music. After that, the duet of Mikkelsen and violinist Jochen Brusch offer a closing Allegro with a surprisingly moderate tempo, an intermediate pace making this "Spring" a season of contrasts.

"Summer" arrives with a more shimmering, sultry atmosphere than we normally hear, reinforcing the impression that this is no ordinary Vivaldi interpretation. As the first movement proceeds, it picks up more energy, and then it falls back into the lazy warmth of a sunny day. The Adagio had this listener nearly wanting to take a siesta, before the snappy closing Allegro brings everything back to life.

Likewise, "Autumn" and "Winter" come across with almost equal invention from the duet. Brusch and Mikkelsen never glamorize the music but emphasize its subtle beauty and gentle nuances with enthusiasm. Now, if I could have just overcome an irresistible urge to get up and skate, I'd have found the performances close to perfect. Admittedly, the duet intend the transcriptions as novelties, not as primary readings of these works; still, they're entertaining novelties.

Originally made by Classico in 2002 and licensed by The International Music Company Scandinavian Classics for release in 2010, the recording underscores the violin, with the organ sometimes so quiet it's almost silent. In other words, the organ knows its place in these "violin" concertos. However, when the organ does make a statement, it's big and bold, with a strong deep bass. The acoustic is big and airy enough for it to complement the resonant sound of the organ without drowning out the sound of the violin. So, for the most part, the audio engineers balance the two instruments pretty well, and organ afficionados in particular will enjoy it for its elegant, sonorous tones. To wrap up the disc presentation, Scandinavian Classics enclose the jewel case in a delicately embossed slipcover.

Incidentally, for those listeners seeking a more traditional approach to The Four Seasons, my personal favorites include on period instruments Kuijken and La Petite Bande (Sony), Sparf and the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble (BIS), and Pinnock and the English Concert (DG Archiv); on modern instruments, Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields (Decca), I Solisti Italiani (Denon), and Jansen and company (Decca); and for a big-scale production, Perlman and the LPO (EMI).


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa