Agostini: Vivaldi 4 Seasons (rec. 1988) - Philips 426 847-2 (DDD)
EX / made in the USA
This fine CD from Philips (426 847-2, made in the USA, DDD stereo) features violinist Federico Agostini's highly individual and wholly compelling performances of Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons", as well as the same composer's Concertos "La tempesta di mare" and "Il piacere", all beautifully recorded in the warm acoustics of La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland in July 1988 with the crack Italian ensemble I Musici.
There are some particularly magical touches in Agostini and I Musici's account of Vivaldi's evergreen masterpiece this time around, in particular the organ flourishes heard in the last movement of "Summer". These musicians have clearly re-thought these uiquitous scores.
The complete contents are as follows:
Concerto for Violin in E major Op. 8 No. 1 / RV 269 "Primavera"
Concerto for Violin in G minor Op. 8 No. 2 / RV 315 "L'estate"
Concerto for Violin in F major Op. 8 No. 3 / RV 293 "L'autunno"
Concerto for Violin in F minor Op. 8 No. 4 / RV 297 "L'inverno"
Concerto for Violin in E flat major Op. 8 No. 5 / RV 253 "La tempesta di mare"
Concerto for Violin in C major Op. 8 No. 6 / RV 180 "Il piacere"
Wrote the critic J.D. in his September 1990 review for The Gramophone:
"It seems that some orchestras become the canvas on which successions of concerto soloists paint their pictures; such are I Musici, who must by now be able to play their way through The Four Seasons and read the day's issue of La Stampa at the same time. Not surprisingly, things have improved since Felix Ayo was their first soloist (twice in succession), followed by Michelucci in 1969 and Pina Carmirelli in 1983, and the trend continues with Agostini. I Musici's sound has become leaner, though it could still afford to lose some weight, their Ornaments no longer stand on their heads, and, as younger players may gradually have replaced older ones—complete personnels are not listed—their grasp on baroque style has become firmer. Michelucci's recording has its virtues, but LS found Carmirelli's later (but not yet available on CD) version better (4/83); it is hard to see the logic in reintroducing it into a market-place already teeming with excellent middle-of-the-road versions—and on the heels of Agostini's later one. The issue is expanded to a two-disc set by the inclusion of the seven more 'named' violin concertos and the six op. 10 Flute Concertos, mostly lacking any other CD version, and this is its principal virtue; for all their grace and polish, they are, however, elderly members of a fleet whose flagship has already been outgunned, as they are also likely to be ere long.
"Agostini wields his bow with the utmost delicacy, producing strands of silver in e.g. "Summer"/II, but with fierce energy in the following movement; between these extremes his sound is firm and bright, with maybe a touch too much vibrato for some tastes. His is above all a passionately dramatic reading, full of dynamic contrasts, and played with great authority. I Musici are sharply honed and so compelling in rhythm that one scarcely notices the replacement of the continuo harpsichord by a chamber organ in "Autumn"; the former returns in "Winter" to add its nasal edge to the icy chill. The overall string sound is a bit beefier than is fashionable, but this remains one of the best versions of its kind. Two more 'named' concertos raise the playing time to a respectable level; both are presented in the same positive, full-blooded-to-sensitive way as their seasonal bedfellows."
Incidentally, the striking cover art was executed by Anton von Munster, Fulvio Roiter, and Ton Wistiers.