Vivaldi’s two most famous published collections are his op. 3, L’estro Armonico and op. 8, Il Cimento dell’Armonia e dell’inventioni. And that second collection is most famous, because of the four opening concertos named after the four seasons.
Biondi and Europa Galante had already recorded the Four Seasons before releasing this complete set on Virgin Veritas. I can say with certainty that their second recording is the better of the two, not only because of the interpretive decisions made, but also because of a better-captured recording.
Many iconic recordings have become my favorite of the Four Seasons as they emerged; Nigel Kennedy’s remained a favorite, then it was later Il Giardino Armonico that seemed to become the “historically informed” new Nigel.
I should first step out and let everyone know that the other eight concertos in this recording as well-performed and sound tasty. These include other named or titled concerti, including la Tempesta di Mare, La Caccia and il Piacere. All emphasize strong beats and rhythm in what’s now a typical EG style, with equally athletic, and even daring solos contributed by Biondi in each one.
But it’s the seasons that steal the show. All the tempi are pushed hard in the outer movements, and Biondi is playing like he’s on fire in a few places, especially in raw and randy summer III.
This has become my reference recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, perhaps the most “seasoned” of all the collections a baroque enthusiast is likely to own. Nothing borders on the polite, even Spring has quite a bounce that keeps you awake, and once the solos start, your sense stay alert until the noisy dog appears from an husky viola in the middle movement.
Europa Galante have earned their keep as exciting interpreters of Vivaldi, no doubt because of their strong leader, Fabio Biondi. This may just be their best Vivaldi collection ever.