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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
The Four Seasons, op.8
CD version:
Pina Carmirelli (violin)/I Musici
DVD version:
A film by Anton von Munster featuring Federico Agostino (violin)/I Musici
rec. La Chaux de Fonds, Switzerland, July 1982 (CD); various locations in Venice, July 1988 (DVD).
PHILIPS 475 6940 [CD: 42:23; DVD: 46:00]

If you are thinking, "Not another version of The Four Seasons", then I have bad news for you – this set contains two versions of Vivaldi’s ever-played concertos. However, this is the first time to my knowledge that a purely audio recording has been packaged with a different filmed performance by the same group.

The Four Seasons is something of a leitmotif that runs through the I Musici discography with six recordings by them to date (1955, 1959, 1969, 1982, 1988 and 1995). The two versions presented here are the fourth and fifth in that series.

The solitary page of notes penned by David Hogarth that accompanies this slimly packaged CD and DVD set claims that in effect the authentic music movement owes its existence to I Musici’s spearheading of the ‘Baroque Revival’ in the 1950s. This may be true to an extent, but I find that the claims made for the ‘clarity and vigour’ they bring to these works are matched by other rivals on disc. Leading the throng of alternative recordings are those by Salvatore Accardo and I Solisti di Napoli (Philips 4761716) and Europa Galante directed by Fabio Biondi (Virgin VMD5619802). In both of these the music really springs off the page – Accardo employs a variety of Stradivari instruments that give his reading a special glow, whereas Biondi throws any notion of routine performance out of the window with his deliciously upbeat and infectious tempo choices.

What of I Musici’s performances? That they know the music inside out is beyond doubt. Both performances display a suitably chamber-scaled approach in the playing that is beneficial to obtaining clearly defined musical lines. Both soloists play with credit in their respective versions, although I marginally prefer the slightly rounder tone achieved by Federico Agostino on the DVD. Taken as a whole neither performance is likely to disappoint or leave feathers overly ruffled for the wrong reasons. Differences of tempi between the two versions are generally slight, and neither version is consistently faster than the other. On the whole the reading is more effective when a touch more time is allowed for the music to breathe and establish itself within the recorded acoustic.

Anton von Munster’s film on the DVD presents a visual tapestry of Venetian locations, art and people - past and present - to accompany the music that leaves one aware that Vivaldi and Venice are forever unified. For all that love the much vaunted romance of Venice the film is likely to have its own attractions; for my part it is the inclusion of paintings of Venetian subjects, drawn largely from the collection of the Museo Correr, rather than views of the city itself. All works of art and their locations are identified in the accompanying booklet.

On the whole then these are pleasing if traditionally conceived performances. Those after something beyond the ordinary would do well to obtain other versions. Accardo’s reading is available for silly money from Amazon, and in my view Biondi is his own recommendation: after hearing that recording you might never want to hear another again.

Evan Dickerson



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