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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Il Cimento dell'Armonia e dell'Inventione Op.8
Le quattro stagioni: Concertos Op.8 (No.1 RV269 in E major for violin and strings 'La Primavera' [10:22]; No.2 RV315 in G minor for violin and strings 'L'estate' [10.37]; No.3 RV293 in F major for violin and strings 'L'autunno' [12.23]; No.4 RV297 in F minor for violin and strings 'L'inverno' [8.53])
Concerto Op.8 No.8 RV332 in G minor for violin and strings [10:04]
Concerto Op.8 No.9 RV454 in D minor for oboe and strings [8.34]
Enrico Onofri (violin); Paolo Grazzi (oboe)
Il Giardino Armonico, Milano/Giovanni Antonini
rec. RTSI Studio 1 Lugano, Switzerland, September 1993
TELDEC/DAS ALTE WERK 2564 64763-0 [60:46]

You would think we needed another set of The Four Seasons like we need a hole in the head. Everyone has recorded these concertos and they have been put to commercial as well as artistic use for many years. However, look at the details. This set was issued originally by the prestigious Das Alte Werk label who started as Telefunken's answer to Deutsche Grammophon's Archiv. The music is played by Il Giardino Armonico who are among the leading Italian baroque orchestras - up there with the very best today. The players rise to the occasion as if these four concertos are a new discovery and produce performances as dramatic and thoughtful as one could wish. Every opportunity presented by Vivaldi's detailed descriptive programmes is taken. They imitate birds, dogs, insects, ice, wind and thunder with relish and enthusiasm. The continuo is spread between theorbo, organ and bassoon as well as the expected harpsichord and cello. Enrico Onofri, the leader of this orchestra and a soloist of great repute in the world of baroque performance, demonstrates the amazing breadth of Vivaldi's imagination as he swoons and trills his way through the twelve movements of these concertos. Nothing is left unconsidered from first note to last. He adds vibrato for flavouring only and along with director Giovanni Antonini goes for the most extreme dynamics possible with these old instruments. Georg Muffat's 1701 instruction that the music should be "so powerful that the listeners remain amazed at so much noise" is observed to the letter! The whole set is just masterfully done and should be near the top of your list.

I have not forgotten the additional concertos, Nos. 8 and 9 from Op. 8, which are less dramatic by nature but performed with equal attention to detail by Onofri (No.8) and the oboist of Il Giardino Armonico Paolo Grazzi (No.9). Grazzi too has a superb pedigree in baroque performance playing also with Jordi Savall's Concert des Nations. He provides a sort of interlude on this CD playing the alternate version of the D minor concerto for oboe instead of violin: very beautiful it is too.
Vivaldi's output has great range and huge originality. Perhaps today he has at last achieved status near to the 'gods' of the baroque J.S. Bach and Handel. After all, Bach held him in high enough repute to transcribe several concertos for entirely different combinations of instruments and also for solo organ. Stravinsky's jokey aside about Vivaldi writing one concerto four hundred times - the figure varies but that is the gist - is funny but quite wrong as these six works demonstrate.
The recording is satisfactorily clear and clean but lacks depth. It is as if the instruments have all been pinned to a board and spread evenly left to right. There is almost no sense of an acoustic space. One suspects the presence of too many close microphones back in 1993.
The notes are absolutely brilliant, with detailed and extensive covering of Vivaldi's symbolism and programmes, background to the publications and interpretation. A special ‘thank you’ to Cesare Fertonani and orchestra director Giovanni Antonini for these.
Dave Billinge   

Masterwork Index: The Four Seasons