Recording of July 1993: Vivaldi: The Four Seasons

VIVALDI: The Four Seasons; Flute Concerto in D ("Il Gardellino"), RV 428; Harpsichord Concerto in A, RV 780
Igor Kipnis, Connecticut Early Music Festival Ensemble
Chesky CD78 (CD only). David Chesky, Jeremy Kipnis, prods.; Jeremy Kipnis, eng. DDD. TT: 62:15

I am now in the absolutely horrible position of having to recommend yet another bloody Four Seasons. If you've already bought the Huggett/Raglan version I enthused over in Vol.14 No.12, you don't actually need this one, but you may want it. The Connecticut Early Music Festival Ensemble is not up there in technique with the Raglan players yet, and violinist Jrg-Michael Schwarz is not quite a match for the great virtuosi who have essayed this required Baroque exercise, but they do have their secret weapon—Igor Kipnis.

If this is not the most exciting or virtuosic Seasons on record, it may well be the canniest. Using the advantage of detail provided by employing one instrument to a part, Kipnis manages to emphasize both the basic musical line, and all that onomatopoeic writing that Vivaldi seems to have so enjoyed. We are even given a precise guide to all of this buzzing and whistling; eg, "The Drunkard Inflamed by his Drink—1:10; He Falls Down—1:31" and so on. But Jeremy Kipnis has missed his chance by not using index points to help the listener identify each brief section. (Even if many players/transports do not offer access by index, they do display them.) If I were going to teach The Four Seasons to a music-appreciation class, I would definitely use this recording.

In addition, we also have an excellent "Il Gardellino," with splendid playing on the flauto traverso by John Solum, and Kipnis's own reconstruction of the Harpsichord Concerto in A.

Then there's the sound. This is digital, and you can actually just listen to it as though it were a real record. It sounds, in fact, not entirely unlike an analog master tape! There is real texture here. When you boost the volume, or listen critically to the sound of specific instruments, it doesn't just fall apart like CD sound so often does. It's so good that you won't want to do any of those silly audiophile-type things. You'll just want to enjoy the music. This disc is just plain gorgeous. The advances in digital sound in the last few years have been remarkable—the impression of real instruments playing in a real space is astonishing for any medium (footnote 1). I urge you to try it for yourself.—Les Berkley

Footnote 1: While I agree that the sound is excellent, making this a worthy "Recording of the Month," there is a minor point about the balance captured by Jeremy Kipnis that kept tripping me up: The continuo theorbo, when it ventures out with a satisfying thrumm, is just a little too loud for believability. Either it was positioned too close to the main ensemble mikes, or it had a microphone to itself and was mixed slightly too high in level.—John Atkinson