This is a recording of Vivaldi’s renowned Four Seasons, plus the other 8 violin concerts (violin, strings and basso continuo) which together encompass the 12 concerts that Vivaldi named IL cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione (The Contest Between Harmony and Invention). It is a great compilation at an incredible low price (so far). I have always loved the Four Seasons, but have been also curious about the other violin concertos, and now that I have heard them have not been disappointed. While The Four Seasons still seems to be endowed by a certain touch of pathos and drama which make it unique in “Ill Cimento”, the other concertos are excellent works, masterfully composed, perhaps happier and lighter, but often filled with surprises.
For decades my favorite recording of the Four Seasons has been the one by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, with Pinchas Zukerman as conductor and soloists. This Zukerman recording is slower in tempos, and not so wild and furious as the one in this Europa Galante CD with Biondi, but the sound of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra is larger, more spacious, and has an elegance and beauty that has never been matched. Also Zukerman’s sound is round and perfect, and his playing is flawless, pristine.
On the other side, this Europa Galante ensemble on this CD has a more authentic baroque sound. I suspect they are using older instruments from that period just by the colors I hear. The passion of the more dramatic passages is often astounding, and Biondi plays with a virtuoso –almost demon possessed- fury that is quite exciting, and the ensemble is quite along with him at every note. There is also a considerable amount of ornamentation and rubatos typical of the period, which gives the whole work a different dimension that I found quite enjoyable and interesting. An excellent CD, worth 5 stars without hesitation.