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Ghost Canyon

Title - 'Vivaldi: The Four Seasons' [Vinyl]
Artist - Simon Standage

For those not in the classical know, Simon Standage is an English violinist and conductor best known for playing and conducting music of the baroque and classical eras on original instruments.

Indeed, he studied music at King's College, Cambridge, following which he spent four years in the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra under Szymon Goldberg. He won a Harkness Fellowship to study with Ivan Galamian in New York City from 1967 to 1969.

After a 1972 Wigmore Hall debut, he became a founding member of Trevor Pinnock's period-instrument ensemble The English Concert and he was first violinist of The English Concert from 1972 to 1991.

In this time, he performed and recorded violin concertos by Bach (the single and double concertos, and the Brandenburg Concertos), Vivaldi (The complete op.3 l'estro armonico, op.4 la stravaganza and op.8 il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione, and Le quattro stagioni a celebrated second time), Haydn and others.

He was also the first concertino violin in the concerti grossi of Corelli, Handel and others. During this time, he was sub-leader of the English Chamber Orchestra from 1974 to 1978 and led the City of London Sinfonia (the successor of the Richard Hickox Orchestra) from 1980 to 1989.

In 1981 he was a founder of the Salomon Quartet (with Micaela Comberti, violin II, Trevor Jones, viola, and Jennifer Ward Clarke, cello), a period-performance string quartet specializing in the classical repertory, performing and recording works by Mozart, Haydn, and lesser known composers.

He played regularly with The Academy of Ancient Music throughout the 1980s, often as first violin, and recorded Vivaldi's op.9 la cetra, and the complete violin concertos of Mozart. He later became associate director of the AAM from 1991 to 1995.

In 1990, he and Richard Hickox founded the group Collegium Musicum 90, a period-performance group varying in size from two musicians to full orchestra and chorus with which he has made many recordings as both conductor and violin soloist, of works by Telemann, Vivaldi, Leclair, Marcello, Albinoni, Arne, Boyce, and others.

He has also made regular collaboration with Collegium Musicum Telemann in Osaka and Haydn Sinfonietta in Vienna. He plays in period-instrument chamber group The Music Collection with Susan Alexander-Max (fortepiano) and Jennifer Ward Clarke (cello).

Vivaldi’s Four Seasons have ever belonged to the most popular concertos of the violin repertoire. Indeed, as you might well already know, one of their first and most cherished recordings with period instruments was Simon Standage’s 1981 interpretation with The English Concert and Trevor Pinnock which has remained an evergreen in DG’s catalog.

Released now via Deutsche Grammophon on a wondrous 180 Gram vinyl, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is a magnificent, and precise ensemble that showcases a clean texture warmed by just the right amount of gently nourished tone; all captured in a pleasing, natural recording.

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Side A:
La Primavera (Spring) op. 8 No. 1
Concerto in E major (RV 269)
1. Allegro
2. Largo e pianissimo sempre
3. Danza pastorale. Allegro
L'Estate (Summer) op. 8 No. 2
Concerto in G minor (RV 315)
4. Allegro non molto
5. Adagio - Presto
6. Presto

Side B:
L'Autunno (Autumn) op. 8 No. 3
Concerto in F major (RV 293)
1. Allegro
2. Adagio
3. Allegro
L'Inverno (Winter) op. 8 No. 4
Concerto in F minor (RV 297)
4. Allegro non molto
5. Largo
6. Allegro

Simply put, this is baroque the way it was meant to be! If you have friends who say classical music is boring, just smile beatifically, put on this disc and watch their eyes pop open in awe!

Trevor Pinnock intuits Vivaldi's original intent in an interpretation of this classic that is breathtakingly fresh, sharp and intense. Original instruments, including a virtuoso violin performance by Simon Standage, playing from an original score with impeccable Deutsche Grammophon production.

Recorded during the advent of digital technology, and now out for the first time on 180g Vinyl, it makes use of manuscript parts and brushes all cobwebs off this work, without even sacrificing drama and vibrancy, given the timbre-related and tonal limitations of the period instruments.

Standage's violin-playing sounds as if he might have been Vivaldi's protege, smooth-toned yet a little virtuosic in his stylish ornamentation, and Pinnock's superbly inspired direction, not to mention harpsichord-playing, enhances the gusto of the orchestral contributions.

All this is capped by a clear and well-balanced recording set amidst the atmospheric acoustics of the Henry Wood Hall.

Standage's violin-playing in this work is able to capture its many subtleties. These subtleties can be found in the lyricism of Spring, the agitation of Summer, the nimbleness of Autumn and the atmospheric feel of Winter.

The Spring concerto shows him excelling in his sweet-sounding interpretations of the birdsong and the dancing nymphs, and his lyrical portrayal of the goatherd in the slow movement.

Then, in Summer, he is able to take on the role of an agitated-sounding water-bird in his so-called comments on the proceedings. Here, the highlight of his violin contributions can be seen in his depiction of the troubled countryman in his first-movement lament and in his troubled second-movement sleep.

But nimbleness takes over in the Autumn concerto, where his fleet-fingered bowing admirably suits the tipsy drunkard in the first movement, and the helplessly-fleeing beast during the hunting sequence of the third movement.

And so does some sort of relish when Winter sets in, as he seems to make his playing sound like some sort of keen enjoyment of the season itself and its related delights, even at the expense of the biting cold.

Standage's shining, polished and confident contributions are well-matched by Pinnock's atmospheric orchestral accompaniments. From the very first opening bars of Spring, the orchestra (with Pinnock's harpsichord at the helm!) is able to make effective use of Vivaldi's tone colouring to back Standage's playing.

It can be particularly loud, for instance, when depicting the various storms (to the point of creating the effect of cracking thunder) and during the hunting scene that ends the Autumn concerto, or subtle as in the sweetness of the atmosphere of Spring and in the second movement of the Autumn concerto.

But no matter how they play, every string player can work effectively in the various harmony and unison passages, and they are also greatly enhanced by the subtle lute accompaniments and Pinnock's astute direction and harpsichord accompaniments.

On the whole, I would like to say that this performance of the Vivaldi Seasons is on par with the various modern-instrument recordings by Alan Loveday (with Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields), Gil Shaham and the vigorous yet sometimes self-indulgent Nigel Kennedy, but it is in a class of its own and also the period-instrument equivalent of these modern-instrument readings.

So then, what more can you ask? I have owned seven copies of this, all on discs of some kind, but continue to buy it - because when I see the impact on people the first time they hear it (and most of them have owned other versions of this piece), I just give them the disc, in truth!

• 180g Vinyl LP
• Mastered from original sources
• Includes Bonus Audio CD of the complete album
• Made in Germany

'Vivaldi: The Four Seasons' [Vinyl] Purchase Link