Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (CD review)

Also, Concertos 5 and 6, op. 8.  Massimo Quarta, violin; Constantine Orbelian, Moscow Chamber Orchestra. Delos DE 3280.

Now, you really didn't think you were going to get through another month without at least one more review of a Vivaldi Four Seasons, did you? I believe it must be the most-recorded piece of music in the classical arena. Fortunately, this particular entry from violinist Massimo Quarta, with Maestro Constantine Orbelian and the Moscow Chamber Orchestra in close attendance, makes a pretty good impression, and one should consider it at least a contender in an overcrowded field.

Still, it doesn't make much of an impression until you get a bit into it. Indeed, at first I thought it was going to be another also-ran, it seemed so ordinary. Part of this issue was the volume, I must admit. Delos recorded it at a slightly lower level than most other discs, so a little tweaking of the gain control was in order. Then things started to come into focus. By that time, too, I was well into the second movement of "Spring" and beginning to get a feel for Orbelian and Quarta's timing. They never take anything at breakneck speed, but they do approach the score at a rather quick gait, to say the least. What seemed routine soon became impressively thought out as I began to realize just how subtle and well-formed the performance was shaping up.

What I liked best was Massimo Quarta's violin playing, perhaps the most refined and most virtuosic I have heard in these works in ages. His violin technique seems effortless, yet he manages maneuvers that might make even the best practitioners of the art shudder. And he accomplishes this with such smoothness and grace, you might not notice it at first listen. As far as the interpretation itself is concerned, it is basically an up-tempo but still middle-of-the-road approach.

Constantine Orbelian
The only thing I didn't much like about Quarta's reading, though, is what he does with the Largo of "Winter," sucking much of the charm out of it with his brisk playing. I know the poem describes somebody running in out of the cold, but this a bit too fast. Nevertheless, it was only a minor discomfort in an otherwise brilliant display of showmanship and color.

For more imaginative renditions, however, I suggest Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (PBO, period instruments), Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields (Decca, modern instruments), or Nils-Erik Sparf and the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble (BIS, period instruments). For more traditional realizations there are Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert (DG Archiv, period instruments), Jeanne Lamon and Tafelmusik (Sony, period instruments), I Solisti Italiani (Denon, modern instruments), Itzhak Perlman and the London Philharmonic (Hi-Q or EMI, modern instruments), Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony Orchestra (FIM or Telarc, modern instruments), or the budget-priced I Musici (Decca Eloquence, modern instruments).

The two fill-ups are the next two concertos in the same Il Cimento dell' Armonia e dell' Inventione series, Nos. 5 and 6, "The Storm at Sea" and "The Pleasure" (or "The Rapture," depending on who's doing the translation). The players do an equally good job bringing out all their charms.

The sound, as I said, is somewhat low in output, but turned up a mite it reveals excellent inner detail and a remarkable natural fluidity. Maybe the strings come off too brightly at times, and maybe there could be a touch more bass resonance or warmth. Otherwise, it's a terrific showpiece, done up in lightly reflective Dolby Surround, which in my main listening room (for music, as opposed to my surround-sound room for movie watching) sounded fine even without the extra speakers. It's a good all-around effort.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:

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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.

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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