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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
The Four Seasons
Spring [9:63]
Summer [11:01]
Autumn [11:20]
Winter [8:47]
Concerto in D RV 171 [9:09]
Concerto in B minor “Conca”, RV 163 [3:16]
Europa Galante/Fabio Biondi (violin; conductor)
rec. 1991, Graz, Austria
NAÏVE LA COLLECTION NC40018 [54:13]

Naïve have selected sixteen reference recordings from their back catalogue and re-packaged them (at budget price) as recordings that make a good way into their repertoire. They’re marketed as La Collection and you’ll find a full list of the discs here. If this Four Seasons re-release is anything to go by then they’ve got the packaging just about right. The slim-line case contains a fold-out leaflet with a brief introduction to the music, a glossary of musical terms and a collection of other information to make you feel at home in the music. There’s some historical context about Vivaldi’s life, some things to listen out for and suggestions for further listening. In this disc they also published the complete sonnets that the composer (probably) wrote to accompany the concertos. It’s all very accessible and so makes this a good recording with which to introduce someone to the works.
 
The performances themselves are very good and well worth revisiting. The notes inform me that this was Europa Galante’s first recording and that with it Fabio Biondi was one of the very first to reinstate the number of performers that Vivaldi would most likely have had at his disposal, together with period instruments and historically informed performance practice. In many ways the disc still sounds fresh and newly minted. The buoyancy of Spring and Autumn, and the generally upbeat speeds are refreshing and the playing is never less than excellent. As with all these things, however, the innovative eventually becomes the new orthodoxy and what struck me most forcefully is just how widely Europa Galante’s style has now been adopted by other groups. This may have been fresh in 1991, but it’s now pretty much the new norm for Vivaldi. To my ears, then, these recordings actually struck me as fairly “safe” and unscary. Perhaps that’s a tribute to the scale of Biondi’s achievement, though. Only in Winter do they really seem daring, with violin playing that has an audacious sense of vibrato and an exciting ability to use tone colour to evoke a landscape. Still, that makes them all the more recommendable for the newcomer. Both as a document of performance practice and as a worthwhile musical experience, this disc still stands up very well.
 
Simon Thompson