Which Vivaldi Four Seasons CD to buy???

OK - I'm a total beginner when it comes to classical music. I'm only recently getting into it because it helps me get through my law school readings and retain the information. The music I normally listen to doesn't really do that.

Anyway, I figure Vivaldi's Four Seasons is a good place to start. (I think that my taste leans towards the Baroque era because I also like Albinoni Adagio). My problem is which Four Seasons CD is the best one in terms of the musician and audiophile quality? There seem to be so many out there... (I think that my father has one by Telarc?)

Well, probably not what you are looking for, but for something a bit different try the jazz rendition by the Jacques Loussier Trio. Very easy going jazz. He also recorded some Bach, Satie and Ravel. All on Telarc. Much as I like more traditional versions of classical music I've really enjoyed these recordings.

For a traditional version Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Field turn in an excellent performance on Argo.
I have listened to many different recordings of Four Seasons, started with Deutsche Grammophon and ended with the Chesky Records.
The Chesky is a recording of the Connecticut Early Music Festival Ensemble and it captures the true "woody organic" sound of violins.
I attended 4 monthly chamber music programs for 4 years while in college (only missed a handful!!) and the Chesky recording finally nailed the real sound of the violin.
I'm not so sure about Chesky and classical music. Always think performance quality first, then recording quality a decided second. If you can get them both together then it is gold, but Chesky simply can't afford to record the best classical musicians.
It's a very personal and subjective judgment. There are different versions depending on your taste, many of them wonderful. My personal favorite is on the Archiv label with Trevor Pinnock at the harpsichord leading The English Concert and soloist Simon Standage, all playing on original instruments. For an old warhorse like this, it is a glorious performance and recording.
I agree with Newmanoc that Chesky doesn't typically have the best musicians but the sound quality of the recording of 4 Seasons is wonderful.

I listened to musicians improve through practice and was treated to observing the special evolution of a fiddle player from college musician to 2nd chair violin with several large Calironia symphony orchestra's.

I guess it is a little like the indie label thing. When the music was played with emotion I was able to overlook the occasional squeak?

Anyway, I look forward to trying Ncarv's recommendation myself.
Winston Ma, First Impressions Music
It is the best I have heard--though certainly I haven't heard them all.
We used it in Las Vegas, and everyone asked about it.

Last year I bought an LP collection that include 17 different versions of the Four Seasons. So I grabbed 6 or 7 more that I already had and spent the entire evening doing a "shootout", by listening only to the "Spring" movement for each.

The Winner for my tastes was a 1985 version on the BIS label by the Drottingholm Baroque Ensemble, Nils-Erik Sparf on baroque violin. It's an original instrument version including recorder, lute, baroque basson, and viola d'amore. The instrumentation is not just a gimmick here - the conducting and performance bring forth the soul of this piece, and the recording captures it. It was a digital recording and it's also available on CD (BIS-CD-275).

Close, but different, 2nd place did go to the Trevor Pinnock / Simon Standage version mentioned by Ncarv above. A mainstream version, but played, conducted, and recorded perfectly. Not as edgy as the BIS, but thoroughly engaging and a must have as a "reference" version IMO.

3rd place went to an unusual, aggressive (Enescu-esque) version contained in a 1966 Supraphon spiral-bound 3 record Baroque set. It could really be a co-2nd place - hard to compare because it's so different than ALL the others.
If I am reading the Czech correctly it is Bohdan Warchal, violin and conducting the Slovak Chamber Orchestra. I seriously doubt it has made it to CD.

There were very few others that I felt were worth keeping after those 3. Many just didn't achieve a good balance between the continuo harpsichord and the orchestra (or omitted it entirely) or were played droningly slow, manically fast, or just didn't have "soul".

I do keep the Telarc around, but mostly because it seem a shame to put a hole in my Telarc collection. I think it came in around 6th or 7th.
trevor pinnock on archiv - not only great performances but
exceptional sound. as for vivaldi, i suggest you don't limit yourself to the "4 seasons"- La Stravaganza (and numerous other string concertos) is a gorgeous piece of music (also on archiv). and his instrumental music offers alot of variety, featuring woodwind instruments as well.
I totally agreed with Opalchip on the BIS label by the Drottingholm Baroque Ensemble as being one of the BEST(BIS-CD-275). I also would recommend the JVC xrcd24 version Orchestre De Chambre Jean-Francois Paillard, Gerard Jarry, violon(JM-XR24001). Both are excellent recordings.
Thank you everyone for your responses to date. I have a question about the Trevor Pinnock on Archiv disk... There seem to be three different disks on Archiv's website. The catalog numbers are 758530, 469220, and 400045. Could you please refer me to the correct one (ie. which catalog number is your disk)? They all seem to be different. Here is the link:


Thanks again!
Hi Larry,

The disk that you are referring to, Winston Ma, First Impressions Music, it seems to only be available in SACD. Does that sound right? Unfortunately, my player doesn't do SACD...
I have and the number on that is Archiv 2534 003 recorded in 1982. Archiv 400045 CD is the equivalent. Here's a little review of it:


and BTW - here's a very interesting history of Vivaldi and Four Seasons recorded performances:



Also another recommendation if you're into this type of music as background for studying - Corelli's Concerti Grossi on Nicholas McGegan, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra Harmonia Mundi HMU 7014 (LP), HMU 907014 (CD). This was on Stereophile's 1991 Records To Die For list. You will LOVE it!
The one I have is 400 045-2.
Thanks everyone! I've placed my order on Archiv's site. I will try to listen to all of your other suggestions as well...

I also like Bach, Suite No. 3, Air; Pachelbel Canon; Albinoni, Adagio; Haydn, Symphony No. 94, Andante... I'll be looking to purchase these as finals approach...

Thanks again!
Me,3, with opalchip___ Back 'round 20 years ago public radio (kcet,in LA,I think) used to have a shoot-out every Sat.AM on different pieces. They would try 3,4 mins. of each movement;starting with 4/5/ versions.Drop one or two off. YUP,Bis 275 was the winner. Sat.back then you had to "run" to your local Tower;there was always a "run" on the winner. I most always made a cassette of their show. I think the jd's were Bonnie Brice and Tom Campbell. I remember he HATED just about anything on the Phillips label. He said he could hear Claudio Arrou's nails on the keyboard. I guess he was a audiophile??
I have a good many versions of this warhorse, and I've heard a good many more, but I think the best one ever recorded is the peerless 1970 Argo (Decca/London) version by Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, with Alan Loveday as the violin soloist.
I'm going to order one or two of the versions recommended here, and thanks guys. But I suspect that my favorite will continue to be the first one I ever owned, which is the English Chamber Orchestra on Philips. (I don' t have the details handy, but it dates from the 1970s.) To tell the truth, I really don't know if it's any good (perhaps not), I just know that after playing the bejesus out of it for years in the late 70s, it infiltrated my DNA and now would be hard to displace. For me, that version is definitive for tempo and emphasis. Ain't it so often true -- your first = your favorite = the best. :-)
Most courageous version - Canadian Brass! If you like the Brass Quintet sound, this is a really worthwhile listen. Someone named Arthur Frackenpohl was commissioned to transcribe this for 2 trumbets, French horn, Tuba, and Trombone - and he did a first rate job.

Not the one version to have if you're only having one, but a very refreshing take on a standard.
Hi, there is a plenty of interesting recording around. This is probably the most recorded piece of music. I would go for one of the following ones,: Harnoncourt, Teldec, or Parrott, Virgo Veritas, or Fabio Biondi. Harnoncourt version was probably the first to show that this music how likely was played on orginal instruments. It seems to me that Parrott even more paid attention to play the music as accompanying music for a poem about the four seasons, as an illustrative music. More "life" like effects in the music, more exalted texture. The most exalted, almost I would say in modern way expressionist or "fauve' using a style name borrowed from history of art, recoding of the Four seasons, however, is that of Fabio Biondi. None the less, that exalted version probably what is likely to fit most to Vivaldi's personality and the time. I would stay away 'older' more tradional recording, like that of Marriner, Zubin Mehta, Perlman,e tc which are nice but influenced by playing style of newer times.
If you are buying music so it helps you when you study to retain your teachings than Classical is the way to go. They have done studies and certain classical music increases brain activity condusive to storing knowledge. Mozart was the clear winner but most classical does this. May I suggest Resphegi's Pines of Rome or his more popular Fountains of Rome if you like Vivaldi's 4 seasons.
Does anyone know where to find Opalchip's recommendation:

"Corelli's Concerti Grossi on Nicholas McGegan, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra Harmonia Mundi HMU 907014 (CD). This was on Stereophile's 1991 Records To Die For list."

I cannot seem to find it anywhere online. I also can't seem to find it on Harmonia's website...


PS The Trevor Pinnock version sounds mighty fine on my systme! Thanks again!
Here's a quote from ArkivMusic.com :

Arcangelo Corelli - Concerto Grosso #5 in Bb op 6, #5 - HMU 907014 from the WGUC Playlist. That recording is out of print, but the exact same performance is available with a different catalog number and is displayed on this page:


According to the website only $5.99, if they really do have it!
The Pinnock 4 Seasons on Archiv is probably the best. I keep trying to find a better one.

That said, TFS is one of the most overplayed pieces of the Baroque period. I find that I have to limit my exposure. If I hear one more overly florid Largo from Winter, I won't go postal but, I could.

Still, TFS is a wonderful piece of music.

For an alternate take on the Four Seasons, try Nicholas Chedeville's Les Saisons Amusantes which as I understand was a Frenchman's take on the Four Seasons which was as big a hit in the 18 Century as it is now.

I have a version recorded on Claves which is out of print - There is a newer recording by The Palladian Ensemble available at Amazon etc.

Les Saisons Amusante is amusing to say the least but, I've always been partial to musette and hurdy gurdy.
For this sort of music you really can't go wrong with Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.

OK, it's a DVDA (not a CD) but Naxos 5.110001, London Mozart Players is a fine performance with excellent recording. And it cost me only $14.98!! (which is cheap for a DVDA).

The four seasons concertos are recorded with ambience only in the surround channels, but the disc also includes two other Vivaldi concertos for double orchestras that are recorded in true antiphonal manner.
I really like Christopher Hogwood and The Academy of Ancient Music's Four Seasons from L'oiseau-Lyre. I also have an SACD recording by Isaac Stern from Sony, but it sounds somewhat bright. I prefer the Hogwood.
I like Nigel Kenned's rendition. Not neccessarily adherent to the original composition, but very inventive and worth a good listen. The Telarc recording is good, but it's almost mechanical feeling. C. Hogwood has superb recordings, but some people may not be prepared for original instruments and playing them in the style of the time. N. Mariner is very good too, and you ought to plug him in and give a listen. Good luck listening!
You're going to have to decide whether you want it performed on modern or period instruments, and played in a modern or period style; makes quite a difference.

I don't see how anybody can listen to glorious music (played on glorious equipment) and read (and retain) at the same time! Anyway, isn't that mixing genres? ;-)

Good luck,
Steve O.
Buy something recent from an established label. Your young ears will enjoy the recording quality. I've never heard a recording of the piece that wasn't enjoyable-the notes don't change. Decca, Philips, DG, Telarc nice sound among others.
i own Christopher Hogwood (Academy of Ancient Music), Neville Mariner (1970)...24/96 remastered! and Fabio Biondi. All excellent. Hogwood great if you like reedy, original instrument sound (i do), and Mariner is a classic and wonderful intepretation. interested in hearing Joshua Bell Four Seasons which is supposedly amazing.
I have a few different recordings and really like Fabio Biondi on the Opus 111 label, distributed by Naxos. Excellent sound quality to boot.