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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Le Quattro Stagioni (The Four Seasons, 1725)
Concerto No.1 in E, La Primavera – Spring, Op.8/1, RV269 [9:53]
Concerto No.2 in g minor, L’Estate – Summer, Op.8/2, RV315 [10:08]
Concerto No.3 in F, L’Autunno – Autumn, Op.8/3, RV293 [10:41]
Concerto No.4 in f minor, L’Inverno – Winter, Op.8/4, RV297 [9:12]
Il Riposo per Il S.S. Natale , in E, RV270 [7:38]
Concerto L’Amoroso, in E, RV271 [10:35]
Concerto Il Grosso Mogul, in D, RV208 [17:10]
Brecon Baroque [Johannes Pramsohler (violin), Sabine Stoffer (violin), Jane Rogers (viola), Alison McGillivray (cello), Jan Spencer (violone), Daniele Caminiti (theorbo), Marcin Świątkiewicz (harpsichord/chamber organ)]/Rachel Podger (violin)
rec. St Jude’s Church, London, 9-12 October 2017. DSD.
Reviewed as 16-bit lossless download.

This could have been the shortest review I ever wrote, even in my regular Second Thoughts and Short Reviews round-ups. Quite simply put, this is now one of the top recommendations in a very competitive field, among the top two or three on period instruments and at least equal with my top choice on modern instruments.

Those other top recommendations are listed in my review of the 2-CD complete recording of the complete Op.8 by L’Arte dell’Arco and Federico Guglielmo (Brilliant Classics 95045: Recording of the Month). That offers almost two hours of wonderful performances for around £9 (currently on offer for £7.40). It’s even better value as part of a box offering the complete concertos, Op.1 to Op.12 – review – and better still as part of a bumper 60-CD Vivaldi box – review .

That recording rivals and, in some respects, even outdoes my other favourite period-instrument performance, from Concerto Italiano and Fabio Biondi, also at super-budget price and offering even more music, currently available for less than £10 (Erato 6484082, complete Op.3 and Op.8 – review).

Both of those recordings offer the Four Seasons in the context of the other Op.8 concertos, as does an inexpensive recording on modern instruments which is well worth considering, from the Bournemouth Sinfonietta (Chandos CHAN6697, download only for £4.99 – Spring 2018/2).

All of these remain of great value for completeness. I’m somewhat disappointed that Channel Classics didn’t push the boat out and give us a 2-SACD set of all twelve. Apparently Rachel Podger ‘got cold feet’, but it would have been good to have had the complete set, as with her recordings of Op.3 (CCSSA36515 – review), Op.4 (CCSSA19503, with Arte dei Suonatori – review) and Op.9 (CCSSA33412, with Holland Baroque Society – Recording of the Month review). Any Vivaldi lovers who don’t yet have those earlier recordings should put that right: they are all on special offer at the moment from Presto, as is the new recording.

The new recording comes into direct competition with two other versions which offer just the Seasons and a few extra concertos. Of these the Academy of Saint Martin-in-the Fields and Neville Marriner remain unassailable on modern instruments with period awareness (Decca Originals 4757531, with RV498, 535 and 443) while on period instruments the English Consort with Simon Standage and Trevor Pinnock is still competitive (DG Archiv Originals 4746162, with RV548 and 516). The Seasons alone in these performances can be downloaded for around £2 (DG The Works 4791087).

Those who invest in one of these or the new Channel Classics and wish to have the other Op.8 concertos without duplicating The Seasons will find an enjoyable account of Nos. 5-8 and 10-12 on a budget-price Naxos recording made in the early days of that label by Béla Bánfalvi and Budapest Strings (8.550189).

A recent Berlin Classics recording from Concerto Köln is also worth considering, although at full price and running to just 51 minutes, with RV156 and 169 as couplings, it’s rather short on value, especially if you are looking for a version on vinyl – review . I have to wonder, as someone who could not get shot of LPs fast enough, why anyone would be prepared to pay twice the price of the CD, around £30, for vinyl.

In any good performance of the Seasons, there are always one or two novel features: a touch of ornamentation here or an emphasis there. Occasionally, some of these revelations take some getting used to – as witness my review of the Berlin Classics recording.

In the case of the new recording, right from the opening movement of Spring the birdsong shines through as if it were a composition by Messiaen. Though other recordings of the slow movement of Spring bring out the contrast between the goat-herd drowsing in the gentle sun and his barking dog from the viola, reminding the flock that someone is awake 1, Rachel Podger and her team bring this off more convincingly even than Biondi and his team.

Take the opening movement of Autumn, which would be well illustrated by Brueghel’s painting of harvesters quaffing wine from a stone bottle. Concerto Köln on Berlin Classics achieve this effect by slurring some of the notes but Podger and her team need no such gimmicks to achieve their effect.

Having said that it’s somewhat disappointing not to be offered the complete Op.8, the three extras on the new recordings are not to be sniffed at. After the repose of the Christmas concerto, RV270, the programme is rounded off by two of Vivaldi’s finest, Il Grosso Mogul and L’Amoroso , in performances to rival the very best of these from the likes of Adrian Chandler’s La Serenissima (Mogul on Avie AV2287 – review L’Amoroso on AV2201 – DL Roundup).

The clarity of the music throughout is due partly to the small forces employed by Brecon Baroque – one instrument to a part, like the Brilliant Classics – and also to the recording quality, even in 16-bit stereo.

The notes are helpful, especially in setting the scene for listeners new to The Seasons, but it should be mandatory for all booklets to carry Vivaldi’s explanatory poetry. Admittedly, it’s now known that each of the concertos was conceived separately, hence the range of RV catalogue numbers, but the poems became an integral part when they were collected as the first concertos of Op.8. For those who don’t know them the texts are here.

Overall, then, while I still recommend Guglielmo and Biondi for the complete Op.8 – and Op.3 from Biondi – the new recording is also strongly recommended, especially if you already have Podger’s Op.3.

1 Or is he barking in his sleep?

Brian Wilson



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