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Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741)
Violin Concerti, Op 8, Nos. 1-4, (RV.269, 293, 297, 315) "Le Quattro Stagione" (1725) [46.00 including credits]
Lucio Degani (Spring, Winter), Chiarra Parrini (Summer, Autumn), solo violins.
I Solisti Veneti/Claudio Scimone
Recorded in and around Italian Villas near Venice, 2003.
Notes in English, Italiano, Français, Deutsch.
Subtitles in English, Deutsch, Français, Castellano.
Extras: Claudio Scimone describes the music, in Italian with subtitles [31.00], and I Tempii del sol e delle luna [32.00] Previews of other opera DVD releases on TDK.
16:9 anamorphic PAL. DVD-9 format. region 0 "All regions"
Dolby Digital 5.0, dts 5.0, LPCM 2.0 stereo.
TDK DV-COFS [112.00]

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Comparison DVD recordings:
Vivaldi: L’Estro Armonico, Op 3. Capella Istropolitana. Naxos DVDI 1030
Vivaldi: Le Quattro Stagione, Julia Fischer, ASMF BBC-OpusArte DVD OA0818D

If I were to play for you the Stokowski CD version of this work and this Solisti Veneti recording without showing you the labels and then asked you to guess which was which, you’d probably get them reversed. Stokowski gave us a pretty straightforward reading. Scimone shapes the phrases with deep rubato and ritards, long pregnant fermatas, just as one would expect Stokowski to do, and with all the good and bad effect that one would expect. Rhythmic tension is often sacrificed. At times one is enchanted by Scimone’s touching-up, at other times annoyed and distracted by it. Harpsichord, lute, and organ appear as continuo instruments, sometimes all at once.

Degani plays the gorgeous slow movement of Winter very nicely and affectingly, straight through with no funny stuff. As Scimone points out, the slow movements of Vivaldi’s concerti derive from the solo arias from his operas. And, also, from eyewitness reports, Vivaldi himself improvised his breathtakingly virtuosic solo cadenza after (not during) the melody, just before the final recapitulation. Why, then does he have Chiarra Parrini over-embellish the slow movement of Summer? (Scimone explains this in his talk.)

Visually we switch back and forth between watching the musicians, seated in a large chamber in a Venetian villa, and moving through the interiors, exteriors and gardens of five Italian villas. In fact the camera is hardly ever still, moving through and around the orchestra, down hallways, back and forth and up and down on frescos There must have been some wild parties in these rooms with the walls covered with these larger than life realistic images of naked nymphs and satyrs, all disporting enthusiastically. Who needed adult videos? Only during some of the flower close-ups in the gardens is the camera still. During the intervals between concerti we have garden sounds — birds and insects.

The extras include Temples of the Sun and the Moon, an RAI TV special tour of Venetian villas, with moving camera as described above, accompanied by pop ballades, e.g., "All the Things You Are", "Autumn Leaves", "Someone to Watch Over Me", "Just the Way You Look Tonight", "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes", also a commercialized arrangement of a Mozart rondo, played, some in swing time, on the solo harp by Michela la Fauci. Quotations from poets are shown in Italian on the screen and translated in subtitles. The subject architecture and artwork are stunningly beautiful and the moving camera is slow enough so that you can, by using the slow and pause button on your remote, actually see something — except when they get too arty with slow fade montages, sometimes three deep, of scenes moving in different directions. And, of course you can just turn off the music — if you find it as silly as I do — and play something else.

Scimoni’s half hour talk is full of interesting information about the history of the form and the works at hand, in fluent Italian with subtitles. Scimone’s Venetian accent is so thick my room mate could hear it through a closed door. After an introduction seated at the harpsichord, he joins his musicians who play examples of tone painting as he describes them, including a chorus singing the original operatic version of the opening theme of Primavera.

If you want a great video performance of the Four Seasons, buy the Julia Fischer DVD. The performance is traditionally authentic and beautifully played by all concerned. Recorded sound is superlative. The video nature sequences in the Welsh National Arboretum are very attractive, but if you want you can turn them off and watch the musicians only instead. If you’re a special fan of Scimone’s and want to hear his lecture, or if you’ve already had your fill of the Four Seasons and want something exotic, out of the ordinary, buy this Scimone performance. Chiarra Parrini is older and not so attractive as Julia Fischer, but she plays almost as well, and wears black instead of technicolor glitter.

If you can’t get enough of Venice and Venetian art and architecture, buy this Scimone video, and also the Naxos Estro Armonico which includes a tour of Venice in the wintertime. I’ll never go there, and these video tours, despite their shortcomings, are wonders to behold. You get from them much more of a sense of place than you do from coffee table books.

Paul Shoemaker

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