Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (CD review)

Also, Concertos for 3 & 4 Violins. Christopher Warren-Green, London Chamber Orchestra. Virgin Virgo 7243 82005-2.

Another installment of Classical Candor, another Vivaldi Four Seasons. The recordings of this perennial favorite appear as regularly as changes in the weather.

But because the Four Seasons come in a variety of flavors and dozens upon dozens of recordings, before I get into this current release, let me recap some of my own personal favorites in various configurations. For modern chamber orchestra, I like the unique, almost surreal account by Neville Marriner and the Academy (Decca), the sane and sensible reading by I Solisti Italiani (Denon), and the refined and elegant rendition from Michelucci and I Musici (Philips Eloquence), which also benefits from a budget price. For a period-instruments interpretation, there’s the exemplary version by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (PBO), the deftly fascinating one by Kuijken and La Petite Bande (Sony), the highly original rendition from Sparf and the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble (BIS) the stimulating Tafelmusik (Sony); the more conservative Pinnock-English Concert (DG Archiv); and to get the adrenaline flowing, Biondi and Europa Galante (Virgin Veritas). Finally, for a big, modern group and a thoroughly polished presentation, there’s Perlman and the LPO (EMI).

So, where does Warren-Green’s 1989 reissue with the London Chamber Orchestra fit into the scheme of things? Well, obviously, because they are a small, modern chamber group, their main competition includes Marriner, I Solisti Italiani, and I Musici. But the speeds Warren-Green and company adopt are more in line with Europa Galante, meaning they take things lickety-split. You get a little of both worlds, modern and period-instruments in the performance.

Not that this is entirely good, however, as the music sometimes seems too hurried to give much emphasis to the picturesque quality of the tone poems involved. There’s not a lot of color in some of the interpretations, like the opening of “Winter,” as there is pure energy. Still, it’s invigorating. It’s also nice to have the two fill-ups: the Concerto for 3 Violins, RV 551, and the Concerto for 4 Violins, RV 580.

The sound of the solo violin on Virgin’s reissue of their original 1998 release is a tad sharp and bright, but the body of the instruments sounds just right, if a little bass shy. Stereo spread is good; depth is inconsequential with so small a group, but it’s a trifle flat; and overall balance and definition are also good. This would not be my number-one choice for the repertoire, but I wouldn’t completely discount the disc, either, especially not when the folks at Virgin Classics now make it available for a bargain price.


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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