Giovanni Antonio GUIDO (c.1675-after 1728)
Scherzi Armonici sopra le Quattro Stagioni dell'Anno, op.3 (c.1716-17)
Concerto I: Le Printems (Spring) [14:02]
Concerto II: L'Esté (Summer) [19:30]
Concerto III: L'Autonne (Autumn) [18:00]
Concerto IV: L'Hyver (Winter) [14:32]
Caroline Balding (violin)
The Band of Instruments/Roger Hamilton
rec. New College, Oxford, England 13-15 April 2004. DDD
DIVINE ART DDA 25072 [66:05]

Antonio Vivaldi's Four Seasons are among the best known, most frequently recorded works from the Baroque era. At the other end of the spectrum lies another, similar Four Seasons by Vivaldi's contemporary and compatriot Giovanni Guido, also known as Giovanni Antonio. Ironically it may be true that Guido's was actually the earlier work, by perhaps as much as five years, and a source of inspiration for Vivaldi. 

It must be said that Guido does not reach the same lofty levels of invention as Vivaldi, yet his Four Seasons, atmospheric and beautifully written, amount to more than a mere change of air or scene. Certain passages and flourishes can momentarily fool the listener into thinking these are actually Vivaldi's Seasons, but Guido notably incorporates French elements into the Italianate, recalling perhaps Corelli at times. His title is translated as Musical Divertissements on the Four Seasons of the Year, and like Vivaldi's was published with a set of (anonymous) poems, The Characters of the Seasons.  

No explanation is offered in the accompanying booklet or on Divine Art's website as to why this 2004 account has taken eight years to reach publication. By coincidence, what is possibly the only other recording also appeared in 2004, with Federico Guglielmo's l'Arte dell'Arco ostensibly performing Vivaldi's and Guido's Four Seasons side by side, on CPO (777 037-2). That was a single disc, which thus suggests a logistic impossibility, given that the Vivaldi typically runs to 40-45 minutes. Indeed, l'Arte dell'Arco are unfeasibly quicker in the Guido: 7:10 for Spring, 3:33 for Summer, 4:04 Autumn and 2:55 for Winter. This contemporary review, which incidentally gives a now superseded birthdate of c.1650 for Guido, considers this work a mere fantasy on Vivaldi's, written "after 1733". Whether Giuglielmo omitted material or more had recently been discovered by Roger Hamilton and co is not clear, but certainly the CPO recording cannot be compared to the present one.
Undistinguished though The Band of Instruments may be by name, when it comes to performance, they are more than a match for l'Arte dell'Arco. Lead violinist Caroline Balding aside, the ensemble consists of two violins, a cello, contrabass and harpsichord. According to New Grove Guido's concertos are scored for three violins, flutes, oboes, harpsichord, viola and cello, which suggests that the Band of Instruments have departed somewhat from Guido's intentions. Nonetheless, the results are effective and persuasive, suavely directed by Hamilton from his unobtrusive harpsichord.
Sound quality is fairly exemplary - pellucid and spacious, yet still warm and intimate. The English-French notes are concise rather than expansive, but they are informative and well written and include the full texts of the poems 'set' by Guido, albeit in French only and perversely not laid out in playing order.
Alas, little of Guido's music has survived, although all hope is not lost: as he disappeared from historical records after 1728, he may yet resurface in some dusty archive, along with a bundle of manuscripts. Meanwhile, whilst no one with any musical sensitivity should ever tire of listening regularly to Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Guido's own memorable account deserves its own place on playlists and in recital halls.
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Guido's own memorable Four Seasons deserves its own place on playlists and in recital halls. 

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