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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Violin Concertos, op. 8/1-4 “The Four Seasons” [40:36]
Sinfonia in B minor, RV169 “Al Santo Sepolcro” [4:03]
Concerto for Four Violins and Cello in B minor, RV580 [9:15]
Tafelmusik/Jeanne Lamon (violin)
rec. 1991, Humbercrest United Church, Toronto, Canada
Presto CD
SONY SK48251 [53:52]

Tafelmusik were one of the first period instrument ensembles with which I became acquainted, and their accounts of Handel’s Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks are among my favourites for those standards, as are their Haydn symphonies with Bruno Weil. When I saw this on the review list, resurrected from deletion by Presto, it occurred to me that I hadn’t heard their Four Seasons, and all things pointed to it being very good. I looked up my old much-thumbed Penguin Guide, on the basis that the 1991 recording date and the prominence of Tafelmusik meant that it was likely to be mentioned there. So it was, and had been awarded the only rosette among the numerous recordings of the work discussed. Phrases such as “superbly imaginative”, “full of fantasy” and “a robust gusto that is irresistible” added to my anticipation.

My reference recording for The Four Seasons, indeed it might be a Desert Island Disc, is that by Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante on Opus 111, which is of a similar vintage. I have said before that these performers have a magic touch with Vivaldi. Their performance is dazzlingly imaginative and thrilling; the visual elements of the four concertos are given full life in this recording. The Penguin Guide also rated this recording highly, but not as highly as the Tafelmusik one – was I about to find a recording to topple a longstanding favourite, as I had done with Beatrice Rana’s Goldbergs a few years ago?

I won’t keep you in suspense – the answer is a resounding no. I heard nothing exceptional at all anywhere throughout the disc. Yes, it was well played, but no more so than any other professional ensemble. I knew from other recordings that Tafelmusik are one of the more mainstream-sounding period instrument ensembles which was why I liked them in Handel and Haydn. The Penguin Guide picked out the final movement of Winter as being “boisterous”, but it was pedestrian in comparison with Europa Galante. Mind you, I wouldn’t describe their performance as boisterous either, because I don’t think the music is vaguely like that – stark and dramatic, surely. In Biondi’s performance of the storm in the finale of Summer, you can almost see the lightning bolts; with Tafelmusik, it felt more like a gentle shower. I could provide more examples, but I don’t feel it is necessary. Such was my disappointment I actually compared the catalogue number of this recording with that in the Penguin Guide in case there had been a second (dud) version, but no. At one point my wife asked why I was listening to such a flat listless version of one of her favourite works.

I am so surprised and so disappointed. Can I say anything positive? Well, this was my first encounter with a Presto CD, and I was impressed by the quality of the product, including a complete reproduction of the 36 page booklet.

David Barker

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