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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
‘The Four Seasons’ concerto grossi for violin and string
orchestra Op.8 No.s 1-4 (Pre.1725)
1) Concerto in E major Op.8 No.1 RV269 ‘Spring’
2) Concerto in G minor Op.8 No.2 RV315 ‘Summer’
3) Concerto in F major Op.8 No.3 RV293 ‘Autumn’
4) Concerto in F minor Op.8 No.4 RV297 ‘Winter’
5) Oboe Concerto in A minor RV461
6) Oboe Concerto in D minor RV454
Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra/Ton Koopman
(harpsichord & organ)
Andrew Manze (violin tracks 1-12)
Marcel Ponseele (oboe tracks 13-18)
Recorded between 1-12 October 1993 at Maria Minor Church,
Ultrect and between 13-18 October 1994at Waalse Church,
Amsterdam. DDD
WARNER CLASSICS ELATUS 0927 46726 2 [56:24]
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Before playing this recording of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons presented together with two oboe concertos, I have two issues to address. Firstly, which classical music lover has not already got a copy of the ubiquitous The Four Seasons and why should they want this release as an additional version? Secondly, the soloist Andrew Manze on baroque violin gives me potential concerns, which I will detail later in this review.

There must be a hundred or so versions of The Four Seasons available in the record catalogue and virtually all interpretative tastes are catered for. Although there are no real historic recordings to consider, as Vivaldi‘s music was not too popular before ‘Vivaldi fever’ took over in the early seventies, there are three or four analogue recordings on modern instruments which are still extremely acceptable. Perhaps the pick of these is the now evergreen recording by the ASMF, under Neville Marriner, with Alan Loveday as soloist on Decca Penguin Classics.

Most of the premier 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 performances made digitally on period instruments which have taken centre stage. There is a highly rated version by Tafelmusik under the direction and solo violin playing of Jeanne Lamon, on Sony Digital. However, my first recommendation on period instruments for its incredible rapid-fire energy and wonderful virtuoso pyrotechnics is the colourful interpretation by Fabio Biondi as the baroque violin soloist and director of Europe Galante, on Virgin Veritas. A convincing premier 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, a recording that just oozes class, controlled power and sophistication.

Andrew Manze, the soloist on this Warner Classics Elatus recording, always seems to give me a few concerns even before I actually play one of his new releases. I attended a concert that Andrew Manze gave in Lancaster a few years ago. I found Manze’s playing on that occasion very disappointing to say the least and that has always stuck with me. Furthermore a snippet from a recording of Andrew Manze has been played several times recently on the radio to illustrate a performer who gets into technical difficulty when performing a tricky passage on a period instrument. I do not allow these two examples to turn into a prejudice against Manze, and in spite of my concerns I was extremely pleased with his convincing playing on this release. He plays his baroque violin with assurance and gives an elegant mid-tempo performance, which is controlled, poised and a little understated.

The recording includes as fill-ups worthwhile performances of two of Vivaldi’s oboe concertos with Marcel Panseele as soloist. Ton Koopman’s indubitable direction of the proceedings, together with his intelligent continuo playing, allows the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra the space for some fine playing and most compatible accompaniment to the soloists.

Although superior period instrument versions of The Four Seasons (as mentioned above) can be found elsewhere in the record catalogues, few purchasers will be disappointed by this release. The digital sound is fresh and reasonably crisp but the recording balance could have been better presented and the sound at times seems rather brittle.

Michael Cookson

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