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Vivaldi: The Four Seasons. Neville Marriner, Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. London Penguin Classics 289 460 613-2.

Vivaldi: The Four Seasons. Neville Marriner, Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. London Penguin Classics 289 460 613-2.

As you no doubt know, the PolyGram group (London, DG, Philips) have been issuing a series of discs in a new "Penguin Classics" line, recordings given high praise by the Penguin Guide to Compact Discs. I hadn't heard Marriner's 1970 performance of The Four Seasons for quite some time and was delighted to be reminded just how good it is. Years ago I included it in a survey of Seasons and used the word "surrealistic" to describe it, a term proposed by a friend as suggesting the interpretation's imaginative touches. I'm not sure my friend actually meant the expression as a compliment or not, but it's stuck in my mind ever since.

Marriner's views of the individual tone poems are highly evocative, as they should be, and are characterized by considerable polish, subtle embellishments, and sometimes dramatic shifts in tempo and dynamics. The fast movements are lively, often sparkling, and the central, slow movements are graceful and refined. However, it is the dynamic contrasts that are most pronounced. The disc had me jumping for the volume control on more than one occasion. I couldn't say whether Marriner had extremely precise control over his Academy musicians or whether the balance engineer did some tweaking of the dynamics after the fact, but the results are both startling and pleasant. The sound is also agreeable, perhaps not the epitome of transparency, but warm and smooth. There were times I thought it could use more body, but it did not appear to have the slightly sour overtones I remember hearing in its first CD rendering.

The year Marriner recorded this work for Argo, I Musici and violinist Roberto Michelucci also recorded it for Philips. For about a dozen years thereafter, until the time of CDs in the early '80s, the Marriner and I Musici LPs were my two favorite renditions of The Four Seasons. It's good to have both of them available again on CD (I Musici on either the Rose or Belart label).

While my tastes have changed somewhat over time and I now favor the period recordings of the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble (BIS), the English Concert (Archiv), and Tafelmusik (Sony), the two modern instruments versions can easily take their places beside them. The Marriner disc's only disadvantage is in not having any coupling for the four concertos, but it's a small price to pay. If

you haven't heard the disc, you might do yourself a favor.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Puccio, John
Publication:Sensible Sound
Article Type:Sound Recording Review
Date:Jun 1, 1999
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