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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
The Four Seasons [102.47]
Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione
CD1 [51:39]
Concerto RV 269 [No.1] La primavera (9:06)
Concerto RV 315 [No.2] L'estate (9:14)
Concerto RV 293 [No.3] L'autunno (10:32)
Concerto RV 297 [No.4] L'inverno (7:44)
Concerto RV 253 [No.5] La tempesta di mare (8:08)
Concerto RV 242 [No.7] (6:47)
CD2 [51:08]
Concerto RV 210 [No.11] (10:55)
Concerto RV 362 [No.10] La caccia (7:05)
Concerto RV 236 [No.9] (7:15)
Concerto RV 332 [No.8] (8:57)
Concerto RV 180 [No.6] Il piacere (7:56)
Concerto RV 178 [No.12] (9:02)

Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi.
Rec: July and October 2000, Studio de la Fondation Tibor Varga, Sion, Switzerland.
VIRGIN VERITAS VMD5 61980 2 [102.47]

After a groundbreaking recording of the Four Seasons for Opus 111, in 1992, that made Fabio Biondi one of the leading performers of Vivaldi's violin music, he returns with a new recording of these over-recorded works. There are literally hundreds of recordings of the Four Seasons available; this music is so popular you even hear it in elevators and airplanes. So, why make another recording? Is it just that Biondi and Europa Galante have since moved up a level to a major label, and they, too, need to have their Biondi Four Seasons? Well, this is certainly possible. But, hold on, this recording goes far beyond the first recording, which was feted by every superlative in the thesaurus. There is something in this new set that will awaken even the most jaded Vivaldi fan. Although not everyone will like it...

The unbridled energy of the fast section of the first movement of the Summer concerto is a clear sign of the approach taken by Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante. This is a rock and roll version of Vivaldi's concertos; almost a punk version, with all the energy of the Clash hammering out guitar chords and singing about their strife and anger. This Vivaldi is not the staid music played in symphony subscription concerts around the world. The third movement of Summer, the presto, with its machine-gun riffs, faster than a flying bumblebee, cry out for the listener to rock to the music and get up and dance. I found it hard to listen to this music sitting down - Biondi's mastery of the instrument is so exciting, so overwhelming, that I couldn't resist moving with the music. (It must be quite an experience hearing this performance live - do people get up and dance? Do the longhairs look at them in shock?) This movement alone is remarkable for its virtuosity and energy; it is almost amazing that the orchestra manages to maintain its speed flawlessly. (Although, one slight drawback in this movement is the stereo panning effect, at one point, where the lead violin moves from one side of the stereo space to the other, kind of like Led Zeppelin guitar solos.)

One could hear this energy in an embryonic form in the first 1992 recording Biondi made of the Four Seasons. But that was the impetuous energy of unfocused youth; this is the cultivated energy of experience. Not only is the performance itself far better, and more refined, but the sound is far cleaner and more limpid. The 1992 recording sounds like a demo tape in comparison to this version.

Yet Biondi also excels in the lyrical, pastoral passages. The slow, moving section in the middle of the first movement of Autumn is played with great feeling, as is the Largo of Spring. Biondi can shift gears with remarkable alacrity, coaxing smooth sounds from his instrument as easily as he strikes chords and plays virtuosic riffs. He seems almost to be sculpting sound with his violin, as if he were seeking forms rather than melodies. The pallet of sounds he extracts from his instrument contains colors and tones that other violinists only dream of.

One interesting aspect of this recording is that the Four Seasons are played like twelve movements of one long work - the pauses between the concertos are very brief - giving them a much larger scope than when considered as four separate works. And, it functions well. The drama of the performance leads naturally from one concerto to another, in spite of the changes in key.

What is perhaps most amazing is that there are twelve concertos on this set. The Four Seasons, of course, are the "title tracks" that sell the disc. But also the eight other concertos of the collection. Curiously, only four of these twelve works have attracted attention over the years, but the remaining eight concertos are far from devoid of interest. But I won't say any more about the rest; I'll let the listener discover these gems.

An amazingly dramatic, rock and roll rendition of the Four Seasons. If you thought this music was boring, you will be in for a shock. Buy it. And play it loud.
Kirk McElhearn

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