Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
The Four Seasons Op. 8 nos. 1-4 [38:01]; Concerto in D major for violin and double orchestra The Assumption of the Virgin Mary RV 582 [11:52]; Concerto in C major for violin and double orchestra RV 581 The Assumption of the Virgin Mary [12:14]
The London Mozart Players/David Juritz (violin/director)
rec. St Silas the Martyr, Chalk Farm. London, 1-2 March 1999
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI 6149 [62:07]
 
Having collected numerous versions of The Four Seasons over the years on tape, vinyl and CD itís sometimes easy to be complacent and say ďOh no, not another oneĒ when a new version comes into the house. Cards on the table straightaway: this is an absolute cracker in every respect. Any sort of jaundiced view evaporated after around 15 seconds into track 1 and the whole disc was played right through there and then. The performance, captured in excellent sound, immediately grabs your attention and is totally captivating.
 
My own personal favourite recording and the one I most regularly turn to is the Argo/Marriner version from the early 1970s which in its day offered a refreshing new approach to the music and beautiful sound. Alan Loveday is a stylish soloist and the performance has a sense of fantasy that has never really been matched (Argo ZRG 654). Some years later in the mid-1980s BIS issued a fine CD by the Drottningholm Ensemble on period instruments with soloist Nils-Erik Sparf (BIS CD275). This also has some magical touches, very dynamic phrasing and a really spectacular recording with a deep, extended bass, especially from the organ.
 
This new issue by the London Mozart Players joins my own two preferred versions at the top of the list and I will regularly return to it, unlike many others that simply gather dust on the shelves. So whatís it like? Well, letís get the technical stuff out of the way to start with. The recording, made in St Silas the Martyr, has a warm acoustic but is in no way swimmy or lacking in detail. The stereo image is quite forward but the sound has an attractive glow to it and the top end really sparkles and jumps out of the speakers. Vivaldiís antiphonal effects are brilliantly captured in the stereo soundstage and details emerge left, right and centre in a very natural way without distracting the listener from actually listening to the music itself.
 
From a musical point of view this is the most polished version I have come across on modern instruments. Can I add at this juncture that generally speaking I donít normally enjoy performances on period instruments, despite my own personal high regard for the Drottningholm recording. One word springs to mind when listening to this new CD and that is spontaneity. This sounds like a live performance rather than a series of edited takes. It has that edge-of-seat feeling to it. The orchestra and soloist David Juritz are in splendid form with the balance of the soloist just right. Itís very hard not to be swept away by music-making of this calibre.
 
Now for a few specific comments about the performances. The Four Seasons is full of pictorial imagery and special effects. The thunder and lightning in Spring and Summer burst forth. The hunting scenes with the sounds of rifles and barking dogs in Autumn sparkle with lightly sprung rhythms that make the music really dance along. Winter isnít as icy and biting as it could be but this is probably a side-effect of the attractive acoustic; Marriner is to be preferred here. The violin solo in the slow movement of Winter is just a shade fast for my liking but beautifully played all the same. One recording will never meet everyoneís individual tastes but this is just about as good as you could reasonably expect. Even if you have numerous versions of The Four Seasons this new one is well worth your attention. Be prepared to be refreshed and blown away by the sheer exuberance of the playing.
 
Almost by way of a post-script, the CD is completed by two violin concertos performed with panache and brio by David Juritz. Most readers will buy this disc for The Four Seasons but rest assured that the fillers are equally compelling.
 
John Whitmore
 
Radiant, beautiful and full of detail.