Top positive review
22 people found this helpful
Sensational Achievement, but with hindsight very English
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.