Vivaldi: Le quattro stagioni; Concerto ?? RV 180 (Il piacere); Concerto ?? RV 253 (La tempesta di mare)

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COMPOSERS: Vivaldi
LABELS: Arts
WORKS: Le quattro stagioni; Concerto ?? RV 180 (Il piacere); Concerto ?? RV 253 (La tempesta di mare)
PERFORMER: Stefano Montanari (violin); Accademia Bizantina/Ottavio Dantone
CATALOGUE NO: 47564-2
Nothing could more vividly show how tastes and performing practice have changed. Pinnock, in 1982, saw The Seasons as conventional Italian concertos – hypnotic pulse, predictable harmonic drive, clear-cut structure. The programmatic descriptions in Vivaldi’s accompanying sonnets are all there, of course, but restrained. The goatherd’s dog barks discreetly, autumnal revellers are politely tipsy. Though the playing is never inflexible, 4/4-time storm clouds clear seamlessly into the triple-time peacefulness of the birdsong, the metrical regularity is reassuring. With a bright-toned Gloria, the whimsy of two mandolins, the kaleidoscopic concerto ‘con molti istromenti’, this is a tempting reissue, highly recommended.

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In 1994 The Seasons appeared in a completely new light from Il Giardino Armonico. They ripped concerto conventions apart in favour of astonishing musical scene-painting, their ‘Winter’ glacial, ‘Summer’ stifling, the dog an out-of-tune rottweiler.

Others have followed the trend bravely (and I’ve overcome initial reservations to make this my benchmark recording). Carmignola and Venice Baroque Orchestra are a little less bold and, by the same token, more rhythmically integrated. Intonation isn’t always exemplary and a reverberant acoustic blurs edges – the summer gale for instance. But ‘first’ recordings of three additional concertos are a great attraction.

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The Accademia Bizantina has some interesting surprises. Spring’s birds trill chirpily, (though, strangely, to the semitone above), summer midges bite fiercely, the hunted prey dies poignantly. Nymphs and shepherds may appear flat-footed in their under-articulated dance, and continuo figuration disturbs autumnal sleep but, if you can’t quite stomach Il Giardino Armonico’s extremes, this is well worth trying. George Pratt