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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Twelve Concertos for Violin and Strings Op.8 (Il Cimento dell’Armonia e dell’Inventione)

Concertos 1-4 The Four Seasons+
No.5 in E flat major La tempestra di mare RV253
No.6 in C major Il piacere RV180
No.7 in D minor RV242
No.8 in G minor RV332
No.9 in D minor RV236
No.10 in B flat major La caccia RV362
No.11 in D major RV210
No.12 in C major RV178
Concerto for two violins in D major RV513#
Louis Kaufman (violin)
Peter Rybar (violin)#
Concert Hall Chamber Orchestra/Henry Swoboda+
Winterthur Symphony Orchestra/Clemens Dahinden
Recorded New York, 1947 (Four Seasons) and Zurich, 1950 (remainder)
NAXOS 8.110297-98 [63.51 + 62.43]
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Comparison Recordings:
Op 8, complete. Liszt Ferenc Chamber Orchestra, Rolla Hungaroton
"Four seasons" Jan Tomasov, I solisti di Zagreb Vanguard
"Four seasons" Julia Fischer, ASMF DVD
Kaufmann’s biography: A Fiddler’s Tale: How Hollywood and Vivaldi Discovered Me


Is this very first version of the Vivaldi Four Seasons really the best recording of it ever done? Some people think so, 1947 monophonic sound notwithstanding. Just listen to the opening of the final movement of "La Primavera" and see if it convinces you. One would expect that a 1947 recording would not observe modern sensitivities toward original instrument, original performance practice (OI/OPP) considerations, and one would be right. Kaufmann uses subtle but delicious portamento in his solo part and the shimmering vibrato of the violin section is tickling and sensual. Yet for its time this was the cutting edge of authentic Baroque style. There is no doubt in my mind that Vivaldi would have loved every minute of it as much as I do.

One must also point out that this is one of the best recordings ever done of the other concerti in Op. 8 as well. Listen to #12 and see if you don’t think so. Nobody since has got that particular life and bounce in the phrasing. It is remarkable that the two parts of the recording were by different orchestras and conductors, even on different continents, yet the force of Kaufmann’s musical personality is so strong that the sense of style is continuous and uninterrupted.

Restoration Engineer Anthony Casuccio had access to the Kaufmann Foundation’s private collection of mint condition original disks to work from and is to be congratulated on an excellent job of restoration. If I had restored these disks I would have explored utilising subharmonic synthesis to restore truncated bass notes and increase bass range clarity, dynamic expansion to increase mid-range clarity and transparency, and constructing reverberation tails to avoid abrupt silences at the end of the movements. But what you have here is as perfect a depiction of what is on the original disk as is humanly possible. Overall sound quality is pleasant and very listenable. The violin sound is amazingly realistic, and the wide range of the orchestral accompaniment very satisfying. I know this recording very well, having been listening to it regularly for fifty years, and yet here I heard orchestral details I’d never heard before.

Now, Mr. Casuccio, which of us is going to restore Kaufmann’s 1954 Torelli Opus 8 recording from Oiseau-Lyre?

An advantage of being a studio musician is that Kaufmann recorded every working day. As a consequence he was able to refine his tone production to maximise its effectiveness on recordings. No wonder he sounds so good as he does here. Other violinists who disdained recordings and pleased live audiences may have had bigger reputations then, but they are gone, and Kaufmann now lives with us forever.

Paul Shoemaker


Jonathan Woolf has also listened to this recording

Here’s is a welcome blast of Louis Kaufman, Vivaldi style. This 1947 Four Seasons, here coupled with the 1950 recordings of the remainder of Op.8, has long been unavailable. It’s billed by Naxos as the first ever recording. Well, yes and no. There was an earlier recording made in Rome in 1942 and conducted by Bernardino Molinari which was once on CD on Ermitage. This used the conductor’s own performing edition – essentially rewriting it for mass strings without solo violin. Sound quality, given the prevailing wartime conditions, was rather constricted but it’s an important and pioneering document albeit one very much of its time and which tends by its nature to obscure the soloistic.

This was something that the 1947 Kaufman never did. Given his opulent expressivity, a compound of molten Elman, MGM warmth and quicksilver contemporary athleticism, this is a highly idiosyncratic and personalised reading, even given the prevailing aesthetic. Whilst clearly it may sound anachronistic now it didn’t necessarily at the time. Concert Hall recorded it and employed Kaufman, the Czech conductor Henry Swoboda and a pickup string section composed exclusively of members of the New York Philharmonic. In the ensemble was an organist, Edouard Nies-Berger, and harpsichordist Edith Weiss-Mann. The sound is a bit muddied and with higher frequencies rather dampened down but the recording conditions were not ideal even though the location was none other than Carnegie Hall. The performances are replete with lavish vibrato, multi variegated and full of coiling intensity, and numerous rallentandi. Slow movements, such as that of Spring, are garnished by Kaufman’s intensely vibrated sound, full of lustrous portamenti and tonal splendour. Tempi are more sedate than they were later to become, trills fatter though no less Olympian in accomplishment and Kaufman turns the slow movement of Summer into a positively Bruch-like experience.

The overt pictorialism of the Four Seasons isn’t over-stressed though Svoboda has clearly given thought to the role of the organ (in the Presto finale of Summer) and the harpsichord in Autumn, where it’s attractively heard behind the thrummed strings of the Phil’s players. The violinist’s masculinity is blazingly apparent from the uplifting portamenti of the Largo of Winter, through the pellucid trills of its finale and the constant ear titillating colouristic devices he employs to bring warmth and life to the set. These are devices he employed a few years later when he recorded the balance of the set in Zurich, this time with Clemens Dahinden conducting. Once more there is his ultra romanticised bowing – just listen to the Allegro finale of No.8 in G minor - or the sheer intensity he cultivates over the harpsichord and cello continuo in the slow movement of No.12. The orchestra here is somewhat thicker in sonority. Kaufman makes a startlingly charismatic pairing in the Concerto for two violins alongside another Czech musician, the distinguished Peter Rybar - who is all classical lyricism next to Kaufman’s opulent breadth, though they do focus on bowing and timbral unanimity in their tutti passages.

The entire Op.8 set is contained on two CDs, neatly annotated with a good "in action" shot of the New York recording session. There’s quite a bit of Kaufman on CD now but there’s room for plenty more; let’s hope Naxos has more on the production line.

Jonathan Woolf

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