Seiji Ozawa/Boston Symphony Orchestra – Vivaldi – The Four Seasons Telarc Records TEL00004/Concord Music Group (1982/2018) [distr. by Universal Music Group], 38:19 ****1/2:
(First Violins: Emanuel Brook, Max Hobart, Cecylia Arzewski, Bo Youp Hwang; Second Violins: Maylou Speaker, Harvey Siegel, Darlene Gray, Jerome Rosen; Violas: Burton Fine, Patricia McCarty, Vincent Maurice; Cello: Jules Eskin; Bass: Edwon Barker; Harpsichord: Mark Kroll; Conductor: Seiji Ozawa; Guest Violinist: Joseph Silverstein)
Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons is considered one of the greatest musical compositions of all time. Witten in the early 18th century (somewhere between 1721-1723), it has been performed for nearly 300 years around the world and recorded for 80 years. The baroque group of four violin concerti (as part of a twelve-piece piece collection, ill cemento dell’armonia e dell’inventione or “The Contest Between Harmony And Invention”) denotes a musical expression or homage to each season. It was conceived with accompanying sonnets (later refereed to as program music) to cultivate a narrative for listeners. The sheer number of high quality recordings is voluminous and impossible to rank objectively. The Four Seasons transcends genre boundaries, utilized in popular culture (weddings, television, film). Over the years, there have been over 200 classical music labels. Most of them have a recording of Le Quattro Stagione.
Telarc Records was a bona fide classical label in the 1980’s. They popularized digital stereo vinyl. By recording the masters digitally and transferring them to disc, the recordings were not unduly affected by compression or equalization. This sophisticated level of engineering has garnered 50 Grammy awards. Concords Music Group has decided to reissue The Four Seasons on 180-gram vinyl. The Boston Symphony under the leadership off conductor Seiji Ozawa delivers a memorable performance. Joseph Silverstein, playing a 1742 Guarnerius del Jesu violin is the featured soloist. He is joined by eight violinists, three violas, bass, cello and harpsichord. From the familiar opening “bird-like” strands of the “Spring Allegro”, Silverstein counters and interacts with strings with sincere expression. The “Largo” is steeped in meditative resonance, and the return to the “Allegro” is grandiose with artistic shadings like a sustained cello and a texture-building harpsichord.
The fast-slow-fast dynamic is compelling, and the melodic intricacies are agile. In the liner notes, there are summaries of the Vivaldi sonnets for context. A slyly innovative “Allegro non molte infuses “L’Estate (Summer) with a punctuated feel and a lyrical viola. Throughout this “season” there are moments of haunting delicacy (“Adagio”) and accelerated modulation (“Presto”). Silverstein and the strings seem to push each other to heightened awareness. “Autumn” returns to the allegro format, combining meticulous abandon, a highly rhythmic string section and swell the first segment. Harpsichord is moved up front in the “Adagio molto”, and the stately final “Allegro” conjures up strong imagery with fury. “L’Inverno” infuses the first movement with a distressed running cadence, highlighted by the piercing tonality of Silverstein’s violin. Plucking strings grip the “Largo” with a sense of impending disaster. The final “Allegro” is stirring with triumphant, soaring strings.
This 180-gram reissue of Vivaldi – The Four Seasons is rewarding. The choice of Houghton Chapel at Wellesley College provides a level of intimacy that reflects the size of the ensemble and offers an immaculate recording environment. Silverstein and the strings maintain a high degree of expertise and aesthetic integrity. The overall sound mix is expansive and potent. When the orchestra is playing together, the “string wall’ is enveloping. Quieter notes like a wistful cello or viola come off graceful and are not buried in the mix. The Soundstream Digital Recording System sounds better than analog vinyl and especially compact disc, The different volume readings are precise and adjust to the sound levels of the orchestra. The luxurious packaging and protective sleeves are superior. Four silkscreen prints by Susan Fiori on the front cover are eye-catching. A lot of technical information regarding the recording session is on the back. The inner gatefold examines the concerti and players.
La Primavera (Spring) Op. 8, No. 1/RV 269, Concerto No. 1 in E Major (Allegro; Largo; Allegro); L’Estate (Summer) Op. 8, No. 2/RV 315 Concerto No. 2 in G Minor (Allegro non molte; Adagio; Presto)
L’Autumno (Autumn) Op. 8 No. 3/RV 293 Concerto No. 3 in F Major (Allegro; Adagio molto; Allegro); L’Inverno (Winter) Op. No. 4/RV 297 Concerto No. 4 in F Minor (Allegro non molto; Largo; Allegro)