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on January 29, 2008
Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741): Le Quattro Stagioni ("The Four Seasons"). Performed by Simon Standage, solo violin, and The English Concert, directed from the harpsichord by Trevor Pinnock. No details of when and where recorded are included in the booklet. First published in 1982 on LP (2543 003), on cassette tape (3311 003) and a little later on CD (DG Archiv 400 045-2). Total playing time: 38 minutes.

This is in every way a landmark recording. There had been period-instrument recordings of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" before this (a fairly middle-of-the-road offering from the Collegium Aureum and a typically somewhat hard-on-the-ears version from Nikolaus Harnoncourt and his Concentus Musicus Vienna), but this was the first (as far as I am aware) for which the players had taken the trouble to examine the early manuscript source from the Henry Watson Music and Arts Library in Manchester, England, and to compare this with early printed editions, thus enabling them to come up with a version which is probably nearer to what Vivaldi actually wrote and intended than anything that had been produced before this. This musicological accuratesse, coupled with the silky sounds of period violins with gut strings, the excellent playing of Trever Pinnock's English Concert and the almost uniquely good Deutsche Grammophon engineering made this, back in 1982, a sensational achievement. The accompanying booklet is also excellent, giving a very clear picture of what is happening when and making listening to The Four Seasons a new pleasure over again. The details in the recording are sometimes startlingly clear, and I can understand why some other reviewers have recommended getting out warm winter clothes for the last part of the recording!

However, I must add that time has passed, and if one thing has become plain, it is that ensembles such as The English Concert with their more Northern European background and their Anglo-Saxon temperament are perhaps not the ideal interpreters of a work like "The Four Seasons". Yes, the English Concert are very, very good. But over the past few years there have been some mainly Italian ensembles who appear to have stolen the English Concert's laurels. In particular, I am thinking of I Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca, whose "Four Seasons" appeared in the 90's on the Swiss Divox Antiqua label. Compare that recording with Simon Standage's and I think you will recognize the difference. The Italians have a "fuoco" and an understanding of Italian weather conditions to boot which make The English Concert sound, well, just very English. The Sonatori are not as brutal as Il Giardino Armonico, but in every way as brilliant.

I will never regret purchasing The English Concert's version which remains a benchmark recording. But if you are looking for the "crème de la crème" on Vivaldi then I advise looking around for the Sonatori version, which, incidentally, also contains a couple of other pieces and does not suffer from the extremely short playing time of the English Concert's CD.
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If I’m not missing anything, Trevor Pinnock and his English Concert were the first to record The Four Seasons on period instruments, in May 1976, on CRD, VIVALDI: The Four Seasons (also on a 2 CD set with the complete Opus 8 cycle, Antonio Vivaldi 12 concerti Op 8 for Violin & Orchestra "Trial of Harmony & Invention" / Flute Concerto RV 429 Cello Concerto RV 424, many reissues, I've given here the cheapest at time of writing). Harnoncourt (Vivaldi: The Four Seasons / Le Quattro Stagioni or complete Opus 8, Vivaldi: Il Cimento Dellarmonia E Dellinventione) and Collegium Aureum (Vivaldi: Le Quattro Stagione (Four Seasons); La Tempesta di Mare; Il Piacere) came slightly after. But Pinnock's first go at The Seasons was painted in pastel colors.

Ever since its publication in 1982, this remake for Archiv has earned itself a status of yardstick version, and rightly so. It’s much more assured and evocative than The English Concert's first essay. The opening Allegro of Spring is played with more vigor, bounce and dynamism than in 1976, and bird chirping has more vigor and character – yes THAT truly sounds like a joyful greeting of spring. The spring storm sounds like a storm. The dog’s barking in the Largo isn’t very threatening and sounds melodious rather than like a dog barking but at least it doesn’t sound, as in 1976, like a dog yawning. Simon Standage’s ornamentation is more imaginative and profuse than in 1976. There’s more energy too in the dancing Finale, and the bagpipe effect is nicely evocative (1:30).

And the same interpretive values imbue the rest of these Seasons. Summer and winter storms are suitably stormy (and those of the Finale of Summer benefit from fine stereo separation of first and second violins), Autumn hunt is energetic, even martial, the complaint of the villager in the first movement of Summer (3:23) sounds something like the cries of despair of his wife (at her husband’s infedilty?), and the dance to rejoice at the new harvest in Autumn (first movement) is energetic and boisterous, which is not always the case, even with period-instrument ensembles (Parrott, Biondi… and Pinnock himself in 1976). The drunkard (same movement at 1:01) is first much too assertive and assured to really sound like a drunkard, although there are nice touches of tipsiness later on, especially in what I interpret (there’s no specific description about it) as the hiccup moment (1:47). Standage adds ornamentation in the Largos of Summer and Winter.

Pinnock’s Seasons may offer no great surprises and discoveries as those of Harnoncourt or Il Giardino Armonico (cheapest offer for the latter seems to be here, Vivaldi: The Four Seasons), but it’s a fine and characterful version that holds up well even today. In fact it strikes me as holding a fine balance between music and theatre: the theatre of Vivaldi’s music is not glaringly spotlighted (or even, for many ears, exaggerated) as it is with Harnoncourt or Il Giardino Armonico, but, unlike just about every version until the 1980s and many after, it’s always there. So this can, still today, safely be recommended as your standard modern version, although the library of any half-way serious fan of the Seasons needs to be complemented with a more radical and theatrical version, among which those of Harnoncourt and Il Giardino Armonico are the references. The only drawback here is the absence of any complement and the scanty total time of 38 minutes. So find it cheap. There are later and augmented reissues and compilations that you may want to look at, Four Seasons / Concerto for Oboe and Panorama: Vivaldi.
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on May 10, 2002
This DG performance of the perennial Vivaldi Seasons featuring Pinnock, Standage and company may be the only Baroque CD in my collection, but it is in essence an invigorating performance of this perennial and much-loved (and much-played) classical music cornerstone. Recorded during the advent of digital technology, it makes use of manuscript parts and brushes all cobwebs off this work, without even sacrificing drama and vibrancy, given the timbre-related and tonal limitations of the period instruments. Standage's violin-playing sounds as if he might have been Vivaldi's protige, smooth-toned yet a little virtuosic in his stylish ornamentation, and Pinnock's superbly inspired direction, not to mention harpsichord-playing, enhances the gusto of the orchestral contributions. All this is capped by a clear and well-balanced recording set amidst the atmospheric acoustics of the Henry Wood Hall.
Standage's violin-playing in this work is able to capture its many subtleties. These subtleties can be found in the lyricism of Spring, the agitation of Summer, the nimbleness of Autumn and the atmospheric feel of Winter. The Spring concerto shows him excelling in his sweet-sounding interpretations of the birdsong and the dancing nymphs, and his lyrical portrayal of the goatherd in the slow movement. Then, in Summer, he is able to take on the role of an agitated-sounding water-bird in his so-called comments on the proceedings. Here, the highlight of his violin contributions can be seen in his depiction of the troubled countryman in his first-movement lament and in his troubled second-movement sleep. But nimbleness takes over in the Autumn concerto, where his fleet-fingered bowing admirably suits the tipsy drunkard in the first movement, and the helplessly-fleeing beast during the hunting sequence of the third movement. And so does some sort of relish when Winter sets in, as he seems to make his playing sound like some sort of keen enjoyment of the season itself and its related delights, even at the expense of the biting cold.
Standage's shining, polished and confident contributions are well-matched by Pinnock's atmospheric orchestral accompaniments. From the very first opening bars of Spring, the orchestra (with Pinnock's harpsichord at the helm!) is able to make effective use of Vivaldi's tone colouring to back Standage's playing. It can be particularly loud, for instance, when depicting the various storms (to the point of creating the effect of cracking thunder) and during the hunting scene that ends the Autumn concerto, or subtle as in the sweetness of the atmosphere of Spring and in the second movement of the Autumn concerto. But no matter how they play, every string player can work effectively in the various harmony and unison passages, and they are also greatly enhanced by the subtle lute accompaniments and Pinnock's astute direction and harpsichord accompaniments.
On the whole, I would like to say that this performance of the Vivaldi Seasons is on par with the various modern-instrument recordings by Alan Loveday (with Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields), Gil Shaham and the vigorous yet sometimes self-indulgent Nigel Kennedy, but it is in a class of its own and also the period-instrument equivalent of these modern-instrument readings. In fact, I find it so enjoyable that even beginners can actually turn to this performance rather than the over-indulgent Nigel Kennedy recording should they be seeking a quality recording of the piece. The texts of the sonnets and their translations are provided in the booklet, and this can be helpful to beginning listeners in following along with the music and pinpointing what happens during each movement.
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on November 8, 2011
Very good quality recording, fantastic sound with great informational product insert. I have heard different recordings of this compliation, but this is one of my favorites. A real attempt was made to record these pieces as close to Vivaldi's original intentions. Great gift for the Vivaldi fan!
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on June 17, 2003
Simon Standage has been a leading violinist for the English Concert for some time. Now he is independent and records with Chandos. Nowhere more he appears scarily demonic then here in Vivaldi's Four Seasons. I actually discovered this cd much later from other Archiv cds (with Pinnock): to my surprise it proved the best version as I could hear the violinist under the shadow of excellent Pinnock wonderfully conscious of his presence. Pinnock and the English Concert-as always-conveys the unerring sense of vitality somewhat different from Hogwood's. Early digital recording nevertheless sounds better with the authentic instruments. I really highly recommend this cd not only to Vivaldi-Pinnock fans but to anyone who are interested in Vivaldi's Four Seasons.
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on October 8, 2013
I have a CD player alarm clock, so I can wake up in the morning to any CD of my choice.

For a while, I was waking up every morning to a CD that opened with Mozart's "Rondo Alla Turca", but as beautiful as that piece is, I got tired of it a few months. Also for a time, I woke up to a terrific CD that opens with one of my favorite contemporary instrumental works, "Music Box Dancer" by Frank Mills. As much as I love that song, I eventually got tired of hearing it every single morning, and again switched CDs after a few months.

It seemed to me that no matter how beautiful any piece of music is, it can get tiring to me after hearing it every day for several months.

However, at some point several YEARS ago I put this particular Vivaldi disc into my alarm player, and have never gotten tired of it or felt any need to switch to another CD. That is truly amazing!

Of course, the small speakers on a compact-size CD/alarm clock won't do full justice to the recording, and the full beauty of it can only be appreciated on a large, high quality stereo. Nevertheless, this CD accomplished something amazing: I can wake up with it every single morning for years and not get tired of it!

When I have to go to work or to a scheduled appointment of some kind, I generally only hear the first few minutes of this CD. On days when I don't have to be anywhere, I sometimes just let the CD play all the way through, and find the entire CD enjoyable and soothing, even with the compromised sound quality of a small portable CD player.

The fact that I have not gotten tired of hearing this music morning after morning for several years says a lot about this excellent rendition of Vivaldi's works by Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert.
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on April 3, 2003
This recording of Vivaldi's Le Quattro Stagioni op.8 is the only one you need. After one listen, you will likely never turn to the (onetime favorite) Marriner recording. After playing it for a friend who had only heard the "standard" Marriner, Perlman, etc. cd's, he said "I never thought it could sound go fresh, so bright". Even the plucking of strings sound much more lively on the Pinnock cd. If you're looking for the best, pick this up (or the Hogwood recording which is equally fantastic).
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on November 30, 1998
This is a wonderful recording of the seasons-in fact for years I have measured all other recordings of Vivali's 'Four Seasons' by it.
Standage and Pinnock bring a fresh breath into an often heard piece, giving it a life that is not only palatable, but highly enjoyable to the Twentieth-Century ear, while at the same time highlighting the sound of the Baroque instruments!
Standage's interpretation of the music is "right on" and I love (not like) the gentile highlight of Pinnock's harpsicord!
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Trevor Pinnock supported by the magnificent leader Simon Standage gained a widely worldy reputation with this superb rendition of one the most famous classical pieces ever composed.

Pinnock recorded a refined, aristocrat and well balanced Four Stations without sentimental approach, replacing emotion by noblesse and nostalgia by enraptured cosmovision.

Despite all the recording achieves the highest standard, the best achievement of these four stations is -to my mind-the Winter. Perfect rhythmic pulse, superb articulaton and fabulous phrasing make of this album an authentical revelation measure by measure.

A must-have. Don't think it twice!
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on August 14, 2001
This rendition gives me goosebumps. I usually take that to mean its as good as it gets. If you don't have the Pinnock & company version yet, get it -- other versions seem sleepy by comparison. The viola-cello counterpart is played with such feeling, it seems to bring out a story about the four seasons of love more so than simply the weather. Brilliant playing.
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