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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741) - The Four Seasons
Concerto in E major, Opus 8 No. 1, 'Spring'
Concerto in G minor, Opus 8 No. 2, 'Summer'
Concerto in F major, Opus 8 No.3, 'Autumn'
Concerto in F minor, Opus 8 No. 4 'Winter'
Flute Concerto in D major, Opus 10 No. 3 'Il Gardellino'
Concerto for 2 Trumpets in C major
Sloval Chamber Orchestra/Bohdan Warchal
Originally Issued in 1989 by Opus


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In a crowded market, any recording of Vivaldi's 'The Four Seasons' must possess some essential qualities to make the recording worth listening to. This recording, by the Slovak Chamber Orchestra under Bohdan Warchal, was originally issued by Opus in 1989. Even then, it must have seemed rather old-fashioned. The orchestra play on modern instruments but only seem intermittently interested in the issues facing such groups in the light of our vastly increased knowledge of period performance.

The recording was made in an over resonant acoustic, but the orchestra play in a crisp and lively fashion. The opening Allegro of 'Spring' mars this promising impression by proceeding in a rather dull, deliberate fashion with the harpsichord tinkling in the background in a very embarrassed manner. The 'Largo' is very polite with no dogs barking in the violas. These performances, generally, seem to lack a feeling for the narrative underlying the concerti. In the finale, the violinistís tone turns pinched and thin, with the accompaniment rarely rising from a feeling of routine.

The recording comes with no notes and does not reveal whether Bohdan Warchal is the conductor and/or the violinist. Whoever is playing the solos has a generally fine technique, but not such a good feeling for the style of the works.

The opening of the second concerto, Summer, is done in a very hushed, romantic manner. This is not a bad thing in itself, but the movement develops with little sense of excitement. In the middle movement, the bass interruptions are overly loud and lack any sense of menace. In the closing 'Presto', the combination of instruments and acoustic starts to tell as the textures get rather thick. The soloists' tone suffers in this movement as well and the overall effect is stolid and steady.

This steadiness is fatal in opening Allegro of 'Autumn' and in the Adagio the romantic string sound was just too out of place for me. In the concluding Allegro, the string accompaniment was just too heavy and lumbering.

The final concerto, 'Winter', shows that the performers could make the concerti work. The opening of the first movement was most effective and the Largo was simply lovely.

The disc concludes with two other Vivaldi concerti, both with unnamed soloists. The Flute concerto, 'Il Gardellino', benefits from a flautist with a sweet tone and easy facility with the attractive solo part. Unfortunately the tendency to steady tempi robs the performance of its effectiveness.

The final concerto, for two trumpets, provides excitement with the soloists displaying a fine technique and brilliant sound. I find that this concerto can sound a little too insistent when played at modern pitch on modern instruments, and so it was here. The accompaniment unfortunately does not match the soloists and proceeds in a predictably steady manner.

I mentioned at the beginning that a recording of these works must have some individual qualities. Unfortunately I cannot really say that I found much in this recording for me to return to. Whilst there are a number of highly recommendable versions of these works on original instruments, the situation on modern instruments is more varied, so it is rather difficult to make a recommendation. Many fine violinists have been tempted into 'having a go' with variable results, some groups applying a sense of period style, others not. If you can face the expense, then Kyung Wha Chung's recent version with the St. Luke's Chamber Orchestra on EMI is highly recommendable. For a cheaper option, then do try the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under Neville Marriner with Alan Loveday as fresh and stylish soloist, available on mid-price on Decca.

Robert Hugill

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