If listeners had to commit to a single version of Vivaldi's Four Seasons for the rest of their lives, this 1984 BIS recording would be thoroughly satisfying choice. Superbly played, brilliantly recorded period instrument performances of this perennial masterpiece are all but a dime a dozen, and the differences between Hogwood's and Pinnock's and Harnoncourt's readings don't begin to make up for the fatal boredom of their performances. This version with Nils-Erik Sparf and the Drottningholm Court Baroque Ensemble would be an ideal choice because theirs is the freshest performance of the piece. Beyond their excellent technique and impeccable sense of style, Sparf and the Swedish musicians bring joy and enthusiasm to the music, and sound like they are in turn receiving happiness and energy from the music. There's real pleasure here, and real affection, as if the concertos were newly composed and these were their world premieres. Filled out with witty accounts of Vivaldi's F major Concerto for Bassoon and his G minor Concerto for Flute and Bassoon, this disc is a delight.
Karajan could be so expressive, with the big sound of the Berlin Philharmonic, in Vivaldi's very famous Magnum Opus. Solo violinist Michel Schwalbe is also terrific, quiet and bold alternately, as needed.
This EMI release of The Four Seasons gives violinist Sarah Chang top billing (as would be expected) and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra a smaller, less significant listing. As far as the quality of performance goes, however, Orpheus should absolutely be considered the star of this recording with Chang getting the footnote instead. This is simply not the case; from the ridiculously posed glamour photos filling the liner notes to the balance of the performance itself, this album is all about Chang. The most fulfilling aspects are the orchestral tuttis. Orpheus is truly at its best here, playing with as much energy and passion as the much ballyhooed recording with the Venice Baroque Orchestra.
Vladimir Spivakov is one of the world's best-known violinists and a highly regarded conductor, and is respected for his worldwide humanitarian activities. His hometown of Ufa is in Russia's Ural Mountains, the low range traditionally regarded as the division between Europe and Asia…
When the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields began to popularize Vivaldi's music in the 1970s, it was on the cutting edge with its light, warm chamber orchestra sound, burnished to technical perfection yet sounding completely different from its symphonic cousins. Now, a recording like this one, with star violinist Joshua Bell, sounds conservative in comparison with young bucks like Fabio Biondi on the historical-performance side or even the young Dutch firebrand Janine Jansen. This big-budget (by classical standards) release is the kind of thing you don't see so often now, with a big poster showing Bell carefully decked out in a partially undone tie, as well as individual full-color cards reproducing, in Italian and English, the descriptive seasonal sonnets that provide the program for the four concertos. It could have collapsed under its own weight, but Bell pulls it off. Conducting the Academy strings himself, he forges tight, not-overly-sweet recordings of Vivaldi's four familiar concertos, with a nice contrast between orchestra and solo that showcases his easy, compelling agility and his Heifetz-like sharpness and brilliance.