There have been many recording of Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Of these recordings, this 30-year-old DG recording with Pinnock and the English Concert still holds up very well. Despite the many advances in historically aware performance practices, this version is still as engaging, fresh and bracing as ever. Pinnock, Standage and the English Concert turn in a committed performance of the concertos, responding well to the demands of the music. Standage soars with his violin yet does not overdo the solo part. He interacts well with the orchestra, playing with and against it. In any case I like the balance between soloist and orchestra in this recording, better than in the recordings done by big-name violinists. I like the way that everyone works as a team to conjure up Vivaldi's images in the sonnets. The remastering of the recording offers a smoother, less "glaring" sound than the original release, and it still sounds just as good as it did when first released, sumptuous, well-balanced and detailed.
Pinnock's speeds on first listen may be slightly measured compared to Carmignola or Biondi. However, they are brisk, bracing and propulsive, and keep the music moving forwards. From the opening Spring movement you can tell that this is going to be an excellent, engaging rendition of the Seasons. I can just imagine the birdsong, the thunder and the murmuring streams in this version. I like how the tuttis match the mood of each ritornello and detail in the sonnets. The full orchestra is gutsy and vigorous in the storm scenes, lively for the peasants and hunters in Autumn and suitably spine-shivering for the opening bars of Winter. Standage's fleet-footed fiddling makes room for well-spun melodies in the slow movement songs without words.
I like the way that this version of the Seasons is very well-balanced. The musicianship is solid and yet it does not become tame and stale. This performance still finds room for drama, interpreting the details in the sonnets.
This mid-price reissue includes two extra concertos as fill-ups. Many reissues of the Seasons do so too since this work is short and does not fill a CD. Although these extra concertos are played well, I would like to mention a more coherent fill-up. It would be good if someone read the sonnets in Italian, and then in English. When the sonnets are read in English they can be punctuated by short musical examples from the recording so that the listener knows how to identify the details in the music.
This recording of the Four Seasons is still as wonderful and fresh as ever after all those years. And it is good that DG has released it in its mid-price Originals series. As such this is still a solid choice for anyone who wants a recording of this piece.