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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
CD1 The Four Seasons: Concertos for violin, strings and basso continuo Op.8, Nos. 1-4. 'Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'invenzione', Spring, in E major, RV 269; Summer, in G minor, RV 315; Autumn, in F major RV 293; Winter, in F minor, RV 297.
Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini
Rec. The Four Seasons, June 2002, Sala Academica del Pontificio Istituto di Musica Sacra, Rome, Italy
CD2 ‘Bonus CD’ comprising extracts of works in recordings directed by Rinaldo Alessandrini on the Opus 111/Naive label: Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741) Luca MARENZIO (1553-1599) Alessando SCARLATTI (1660-1799) J.S. BACH (1660-1750) George HANDEL (1685-1759) Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1759) Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643) Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868) DDD
OPUS111/NAÏVE OP 30363 [2CDs: 44:41+57:43]

Here we go again folks, another version of Vivaldi's ubiquitous The Four Seasons, this time from the crack Italian period instrument ensemble Concerto Italiano, under their brilliant director Rinaldo Alessandrini. The Four Seasons is a wonderfully inventive and melodic work but if any work has been overexposed this one has. I believe that there are now over a hundred versions in the CD catalogue in performances that probably range from panpipes to bagpipes. I ask myself, as others surely do, is there a need for yet another version? I suppose it all depends on the version and this is undoubtedly an excellent one but the competition is extremely fierce.

I don’t intend to make comparisons with many of the dozen recommended versions in my collection just against my own particular digital favourites that are played on original instruments. The award winning baroque ensemble Concerto Italiano are in top form here. Interestingly, the ensemble use a different soloist for each of the four concertos. If you like your Four Seasons played with varied expression, impressive imagination and a fiery passion then this recording is worth considering.

My main reservation is with the sound, which I must point out is exceptionally clear and detailed, but for me gives a sense of being rather cold and boxy. I can almost smell the scent of the wood of the instruments and hear the scrape of horsehair bows on gut strings; perhaps it’s all a touch too much. Personally I would have preferred a slightly warmer recording to add to the colouristic palette of the period instruments, to prevent what can seem a somewhat clinical and astringent impression. For the continuo support some period ensembles have recently used, to much acclaim, a robust and varied combination of harpsichord, organ, theorbo, cello, archlute and baroque guitar. On this Opus111/Naïve recording, director Rinaldo Alessandrini provides continuo accompaniment on the organ together with cello and contrabasso support, which is fine but misses out on achieving richer sonorities. Perhaps the director’s organ playing could have been more subtle; for my taste it does rather dominate the proceedings at times.

Most of the heavyweight violin virtuosos such as Anne Sophie Mutter, Itzhak Perlman, Yehudi Menuhin and Nigel Kennedy et al have made a recording or two of The Four Seasons. For many listeners, including myself, it has been those digital recordings from the new generation of period instrument performers which have taken centre-stage: namely the Venice Baroque Orchestra, Europe Galante, Concerto Italiano, Freiburger Barock Orchester etc.

My premier period instruments recommendation, for its incredible rapid-fire energy and amazing virtuoso pyrotechnics, is the wonderfully colourful interpretation by Fabio Biondi as baroque violin soloist and director of Europe Galante. This on Virgin Veritas 5 61980 2. Using original manuscripts Biondi’s recording includes terrific recordings of the remaining eight concertos from the Opus 8 set; a real bonus for any collector. A most convincing alternative is the brilliantly imaginative version from baroque violin soloist Giuliano Carmignola and the Venice Baroque Orchestra, under the direction of Andrea Marcon, on Sony Classical SK 51352, a recording that just oozes class, controlled power and sophistication.

This CD of The Four Seasons comes with a bonus CD 2 called ‘A Portrait’ which I assume is a marketing tool to publicise other recordings of the director Rinaldo Alessandrini; some of which are recipients of prestigious European awards. This is merely a sampler of short extracts, some previously unreleased, and as the record company have not seen fit to translate the titles into English, which is all a little unclear, I have seen fit to spend only a minimum amount of time mentioning it in this review.

Although not my first choice for The Four Seasons, the Concerto Italiano and Alessandrini, can be justly proud of their excellent performance and few purchasers will be disappointed. In short not as exciting as Biondi and Europe Galante on Virgin Veritas and not as stylish as Carmignola and the Venice Baroque Orchestra on Sony Classical. Even if you already have a copy or two of The Four Seasons in your collection, and who hasn’t, this period instrument release from Opus111/Naïve release is a refreshing alternative.

Michael Cookson



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