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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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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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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa