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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
The Four Seasons - concertos for violin, strings and basso continuo Op. 8, Nos 1-4 (from Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione)
(1. Spring, in E major, RV 269; 2. Summer, in G minor, RV 315; 3. Autumn, in F major RV 293; 4. Winter, in F minor, RV 297)
Concerto for three violins, strings and basso continuo in F major, RV 551
Concerto for strings and basso continuo, in D minor RV 128
Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca/Giuliano Carmignola (baroque violin)
Recorded at the Church of San Vigilico, Col S. Martino, Treviso, Italy on March and October, 1992 DDD
DIVOX ANTIQUA CDX-79404 [53:00]


Yes, here we go again folks! Yet another version of Vivaldi’s ubiquitous The Four Seasons. This time it’s a re-release from the Italian period instrument ensemble Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca joined by Giuliano Carmignola. Carmignola has since recorded The Four Seasons to significant acclaim with the Venice Baroque Orchestra under Andrea Marcon on Sony. This Divox Antiqua disc has the advantage of the very same Andrea Marcon on chamber organ.

Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca were founded twenty years ago in Treviso, a city in the Veneto region known during the Renaissance as ‘Marca Gioiosa’. Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca have become one of the most famous authentic instrument ensembles in Italy. Over the last ten years they have trail-blazed the way for the new period instrument generation that has come to prominence at the cutting-edge of the late-baroque scene. These new kids on the block have successfully ratcheted-up the level of technical proficiency and interpretative standards by several notches.

The Four Seasons are wonderfully inventive and melodic but if any music has been overexposed they’re it. I believe that there are now over one hundred versions in the catalogue in performances that probably range from Violin to Panpipes to Bagpipes. I ask myself, as others surely do, is there a need for yet another version? I suppose it all depends on quality and this version is undoubtedly a fine one but the competition is exceptionally fierce. I don’t intend to make difficult and unnecessary comparisons between the versions in my collection on modern instruments against my own particular favourites played on original instruments; it’s really down to personal taste.

I would guess that eight or nine players are being used in these chamber-scaled performances. Throughout the allegros are lively, vigorous and clean. Perhaps a touch of additional bite and a bolder approach would have helped on occasions. However, the temptation to adopt too swift a tempo is shrewdly avoided. Carmignola’s superbly virtuosic playing in the opening allegro of Autumn with marvellous support from the players is a highlight. In the central adagio/largo movements the ensemble perform with considerable control, offering calmness and at times an atmosphere of serenity. I loved the way the expressive playing from Carmignola provides an air of mystery, heard to great effect in the central adagio of Autumn.

In spite of the excellent playing there is at times a reluctance from Carmignola to widen his range of dynamic and there can be insufficient variation in expression. The passion just does not fire compared with some rival versions. The Divox Antiqua engineers have provided exceptionally dry, cool, clear and detailed sonics. However I would have preferred a slightly warmer ambience to add to the colouristic palette of the period instruments. This would have prevented what can come across clinical and astringent.

Most of the superstar violin virtuosos such as Anne Sophie Mutter, Itzhak Perlman, Yehudi Menuhin and Nigel Kennedy have made a recording or two of The Four Seasons. For many listeners it has been those wonderful digital recordings of The Four Seasons from the very best of the new-generation of period instrument performers that have taken centre-stage; namely the Venice Baroque Orchestra with soloist Giuliano Carmignola on Sony SK 51352, Europe Galante with Fabio Biondi on Virgin 5-61980-2, Concerto Italiano with four soloists on Naïve 30363, Freiburger Barockorchester with Gottfried von der Goltz on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi DHM 05472-77384-2 and Il Giardino Armonico with Enrico Onofri on Teldec 4509-90850-2.

My premier recommendation on period instruments is the highly colourful and imaginative performance from Fabio Biondi as baroque violin soloist and director of Europe Galante, on Virgin Veritas 5-61980-2. The Biondi contains incredible rapid-fire energy and amazing virtuoso pyrotechnics. The Virgin recording uses original manuscripts and the set includes terrific recordings of the remaining eight concertos from the Opus 8 set; a real bonus for any collector. A most convincing period instrument alternative is the brilliant version from Carmignola and the Venice Baroque Orchestra on Sony Classical SK 51352. Using the 1996 Ricordi critical edition this is a performance that just oozes class, controlled power and sophistication.

Using modern instruments an interpretation that will grace any collection is the evergreen 1970 recording played by Alan Loveday with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under Neville Marriner on Decca Penguin Music Classics 460 613-2 or Decca Legends 466 232-2.

There are two other Vivaldi scores on this Divox disc. They serve as ‘fillers’. Both RV 128 and RV 551 are performed with accomplishment and affection.

This is a well played recording but there are many superior alternatives in the catalogues.

 

Michael Cookson

 

 

 



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