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.