VIVALDI: Le Quatro Stagioni (The Four Seasons) – Grazia Raimondi, violin/ Musici Aurei/ Luigi Piovano – Eloquentia EL1023, 38:41 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
VIVALDI: The Four Seasons; Violin Concertos RV 375, RV 277 Il favorito and RV 271 L’amoroso – Elizabeth Blumenstock, violin / Philharmonia Baroque/ Nicholas McGegan – Philharmonia Baroque PBP-03, 75:30 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
What? Another two compact discs of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons? I stopped looking at Amazon.com’s list of available discs of “The Four Seasons” when the number reached 500. I checked David Hall’s 1940/43 The Record Book and found there were none then. So this plethora of recordings of this introductory set of concertos from Vivaldi’s Il Cimento dell’Armonia e dell’Inventione, Op. 8 (The Contest between Harmony and Invention) is all post-WWII!
There seems to be a debate as to when the first recording was made. The first studio effort seems to have been made in Italy in 1942 by conductor Bernadino Molinari for the Italian label Cetra. In 1948, violinist Louis Kaufman with the Concert Hall Chamber Orchestra under the baton of Henry Swoboda made a recording for the Concert Hall Society label. As a result, Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons began to enter the musical mainstream of America and Europe.
While we were not in need of another one, let alone two recordings, it turns out that the Eloquentia release is quite a show stopper. Conductor Piovano says this performance is “…authentically Italian.” The style is historically informed. Grazia Raimondi is the violin soloist whose performance is flamboyant, yet exacting. With the Musici Aurei the overall effect is breathtaking. If you like tempi prestissimo, you will love Piovano’s approach.
The Eloquentia release comes bathed in brilliant stereo sound, having been recorded in the Garage Bulgari in Rome. To prove that, in the disc’s booklet there are lots of color photos taken of old automobiles (late 1930s vintage) with the artists posing around them. Notes are in French, English and Italian. However, the only real rub is the short timing on the disc: 38:41. With the hundreds of Vivaldi scores about, you would think Eloquentia could have persuaded the performers to provide some additional music.
The Philharmonia Baroque recording is more in the style of what you would expect from a typical historically-informed group. Generally, tempi are faster than older recordings, but nowhere near as fast as the Eloquentia release. In fact, conductor Nicholas McGegan, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and soloist Elizabeth Blumenstock employ rubato without shame. As a result, these short three-movement concertos stand out as attractive, dramatic and dynamic miniature tone pictures under McGegan’s expert leadership. His violinist, Blumenstock. leaves nothing to be desired in terms of her virtuosic capabilities.
Three Vivaldi concerto bonuses bring the total time on this disc up to 75:30. McGegan and company offer “Concerto in B-flat Major, RV 375,” “Concerto in E Minor, RV 277” Il favorito and “Concerto in E Major, RV 271” L’amoroso, also in excellent readings.
The attractive Philharmonia Baroque booklet comes in English, French and German, plus the explanatory sonnets that go with The Four Seasons in Italian with English translation. There is a listing of all the orchestra’s members.
This compact disc also offers superlative stereo sound. It was recorded at Skywalker Sound in Nicasio, California. [Known for its super-low background noise level…Ed.] Neither recording offers much in the way of hall ambience, but they do offer a good tonal balance and transparency. It leads me to believe that they were both multi-miked, but well-mixed.
A gloriously vivid sonic document!