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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 (1725)
Concerto in E major Op.8/1 RV 269 ‘La primavera’ [10:21]
Concert in G minor Op.8/2 RV 315 ‘L’estate’ [10:36]
Concerto in F major Op.8/3 RV 293 ‘L’autunno’ [12:22]
Concerto in F minor Op.8/4 RV 297 ‘L’inverno’ [8:51]
Enrico Onofri (violin)
Il Giardino Armonico/Giovanni Antonini
rec. no details given, original CD + DVD 1994
Picture Format: NTSC 4:3
Region Code: 2,3,4,5
Linear-PCM Stereo
WARNER 50-51442-7865-2-1 [DVD: 42:00 + CD: 42:13]
Experience Classicsonline

Il Giardino Armonico have recorded widely for Teldec, and as far as I can tell this recording is their award-winning 1994 recording of The Four Seasons with Enrico Onofri as solo violinist. There is likely to be some confusion here, as Onofri is given as soloist in the final credits on the DVD but the booklet makes no mention of his name. I’ve done my anorak duty and played the two discs simultaneously, and they are indeed one and the same recording, so this would appear to be confirmed as a straight reissue. Whether the band is actually playing when they appear on the DVD or merely synching with the pre-recorded soundtrack is something of a moot point, it certainly all looks convincing enough.

At the time this recording came out the historically informed performing circuit was already in full swing and indeed well into some kind of maturity, but it was clearly felt that not all the juice and wild goodness had been extracted from Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’. Giovanni Antonini is keen to push the tempi just that extra bit harder; driving a faster, more lithe machine than most. Enrico Onofri hacks out the ‘barking dog’ with extreme gusto, and doesn’t hold back with other effects such a slow vibrato, some folk-like ornamentation and plenty of extremes in colour and dynamic. The chilling ‘sawmill’ string effects in ‘Winter’ are particularly effective. While now, to my mind at least, superseded by the likes of Stefano Montanari, this is even now still a very impressive performance and recording. On this transfer the CD somehow sounds a bit thinner than the DVD, with some digital ‘glaze’ on the string sound and a reluctance to allow much in the way of bass. The DVD somehow sounds more up-to-date, fuller and more detailed, though this might just be some kind of euphonic effect from playing the thing on something less critical than my super-revealing hi-fi CD torture box.

The USP for this release will most likely be the DVD. This is rather nicely done, and goes beyond a standard Venetian Tourist Board promotional video, although visitors will no doubt still find this a very fine souvenir indeed. The famous views are of course well covered and there is much bobbing around on gondolas, but the director Tony Sutcliffe is also quite keen on looking at craftsmen at work, from carpenters and boat builders to glassblowers. We are taken down tiny back streets and alleyways, shown masked revellers, quirky little ornaments, sequences of beautiful doors, sculptures of all kinds, religious carving, paintings and art both high and low. Theming the concertos is sometimes done in a kind of allegory, looking for instance at Venetian youth interacting for ‘Spring’. There are one or two quick zoom shots for some of the more dramatic moments, but the film is thankfully sparing with its special effects, and the timing of the action that there is often moves nicely, sometimes even wittily with the music. Scenes are allowed to accompany the atmosphere of certain effects in the music, so lovingly elongated views of the lagoon, and even the more industrial side of Venice are all captured as in a detailed documentary. There are course some shots of Il Giardino Armonico at work, showing the compact ensemble at one with music with which they have such a close association. Those, like me, who have yet to visit Venice will be all the more encouraged to go by most of this DVD. Those who have already been can relive their visit, and, wondering at how they managed to miss all of the bits they can’t recognise, become determined to return.

This is more of a convenient gift package than a discovery for the serious music collector, providing that bit of extra substance to ‘just The Four Seasons again’. It’s a little hard to see if Warner are offering Il Giardino Armonico’s notable recording with a bonus DVD or the other way around, but either way this is an attractive item which is unlikely to disappoint.

Dominy Clements


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