Classical CD Reviews
ANTONIO VIVALDI: The Four Seasons; Concerto RV 317 in G minor; Concerto RV 257 in E flat major – Polish Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra/Daniel Gaede (violin)/Wojciech Rajski – Tacet
Published on June 2, 2008
This disc is noted for the all-tube equipment in the recording chain up to the point when the analog signals captured initially by the Neumann M49 tube microphones (the music) is converted to digital and normalized to the so-called Red Book CD Standards so as to be played as regular CDs. It should be noted that these classic Neumann M49 tube microphones were developed in 1949 and manufactured around 1951. From the top, to my ears this orchestra just got rid of all romanticized vibrato and played with pure tone, and as a result the instruments sound much older than they really are. The music’s execution thus shows a small chamber orchestra becoming in touch with the past; it is a modern instrument orchestra that sounds like a period instrument ensemble. Changing to period bowing styles makes a world of difference and there is no question about it, the tempi are fast and there is nothing ponderous in these enlightened performances. On this disc nobody gets in the way of Vivaldi, nor interferes with him either, and all seem to be Vivaldi’s advocates!
The Four Seasons from the Opus 8 is a unique set of four violin concertos by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) composed in 1723 and first published as scores for solo violin and string quartet in 1725. The present version is a modern transcription with different instrumentation for a small chamber orchestra including a harpsichord providing the basso continuo part. These four concertos were written by Vivaldi to go along with four sonnets and they are, therefore, true tonepoems, and an early example of programmatic music. Do yourself a favor and follow the music with the text of the sonnets and see how much more sense the whole thing makes. The text for the sonnets can be found at www.baroque-music-club.com/vivaldiseasons.html
On listening to this Four Seasons there is a physical sensation that can, as in this recording, be transformed into an emotional sensation that comes through the sounds and the expert manipulation of stringed instruments’ acoustics; instrumental acoustics is not the same as hall acoustics. Instrumental acoustic balancing control is exemplary throughout but none more so than in Tracks No. 8 (Adagio molto), No. 14 (Adagio) and No. 17 (Adagio). Moreover, the strings are supremely strong and precise throughout while observing a warm pure tone as in Track No. 10’s an Allegro molto violin solo with cellos and contrabass accompaniment which in turn moves swiftly to the marvelous violin pizzicatos of Track No. 11’s Largo with their perfect syncopation, and the remaining strings providing pure tonal harmony.
The music in this disc is not about anyone, not even about Daniel Gaede – the violin soloist – the music is about Vivaldi with a very lean and taut sound. The present orchestra jells together very well their modern instruments and period sound with their lilting fast allegros, sharply-executed phrasing in the slow middle movements, and the joyous final prestos. There is energy and commitment from the orchestra’s parts, the soloist and the conductor as evidenced by their precise entrances and of all things no discernible mistakes. All this I am saying about the Four Seasons can be transposed to the other two violin concertos on this disc just as well.
The “tubes only” sound is adequate but nothing on the spectacular side; I am not convinced that “tubes only” regular CDs have much to contribute and I would rather see (or hear) a “tube only” SACD. On this CD imaging is excellent but dynamics are just rather flat, save for an occasional entrance of the cellos and/or the contrabass when playing very loud. My very subjective opinion is that an SACD recording would have been a much better choice. In this “tube only” incarnation the sound is less than…
Final words: fortunately the artistry of the performance amply surpasses the just average sound and that could be a good enough reason to justify this disc.
– John Nemaric