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Pristine Classical

Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Concertos for Violin and Strings Op.8 Nos 1-4 The Four Seasons (publ. 1725) [44:26]

John Corigliano (violin)
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York/Guido Cantelli
rec. March 1955, Carnegie Hall, New York
Experience Classicsonline

This, strangely, is the only commercial recording that Cantelli made with the orchestra then still known as the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York. It’s even more surprising to discover that it’s Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, with the orchestra’s concertmaster John Corigliano as soloist. He is not an obvious choice for the conductor, though it’s true that he did venture into baroque waters from time to time.

In 1955, this wasn’t yet the ubiquitous work it’s since become. The notes mention the existence of a live Campoli performance with Boyd Neel from 1939. I’ve often wondered about that performance, given that the BBC was still being snooty to the violinist at the time and only began to relent in respect of the classical repertoire in the early 1940s. I suspect it was made a bit later than 1939. The notes mention that the 1955 I Musici recording was the ‘first commercially successful’ traversal. Didn’t the 1947 Louis Kaufman recording (Naxos 8.110297-98) sell very well? The recording by Molinari certainly couldn’t have done, given its 1942 recording date; in the conductor’s edition the solo violin is replaced by massed strings. 

Getting back to this disc we can note that the soloist isn’t overly spotlit, as was so often the case, and that the orchestral patina is pretty well integrated. There’s a large sounding harpsichord continuo. Cantelli and Corigliano take the work seriously and just a bit too ponderously, even for the time. The ethos is a general legato with strongly vibrated string tone, heavily emphatic, as in the Allegro of Spring with which things begin. All tempi will now sound to us very measured but compensation comes from the soloist’s fast vibrato and the lustre of the orchestra’s burnished string section, its heft and strong attacks. 

Within these broad parameters one can still enjoy this as a curio of past performance practice. Some points will fester though, not least the rather aggressive lower string chugging in the adagio of Summer and the soloistic ethos in Autumn - and throughout, really - which is tonally and stylistically more attuned to the romantic repertoire. The same can, of course, be said of Kaufman but somehow his greater luscious tonal reserves and candour-laden portamenti seem to remove him from this kind of criticism, enclosing him in a sub-category all his own. 

Corigliano and Cantelli’s tempi distensions in the slow movement of Autumn are powerful indices of their approach to this music. And so too is their solution to the Largo of Winter, in which the solo line starts but then disappears. Molinari-like, massed strings take over until the very end when Corigliano returns out of the massed melee. 

I’ve not heard the LPs from which this transfer derives but the occasional muddiness is a result of the original set-up. One for admirers of Vivaldian string saturation, Cantelli style. 

Jonathan Woolf 




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