Director and violinist Amandine Beyer acknowledges in her booklet notes for this disc that the world may not seem to need another recording of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, but then she tops the bar she has set up by delivering an entirely distinctive reading of the work. Her version, with the Italian historical-instrument group Gli Incogniti (who are not quite as unknown as all that), is as strikingly revisionist as the various turbo-powered, operatic Vivaldi recordings that began coming out of Italy in the 1990s, but it is different in flavor. In her own words, Beyer seeks "lightweight forces and freedom of phrasing." The group is small, with microphones put down right in the middle, and you hear lots of internal lines and interplay rather than contrast between orchestra and soloist.
This EMI release of The Four Seasons gives violinist Sarah Chang top billing (as would be expected) and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra a smaller, less significant listing. As far as the quality of performance goes, however, Orpheus should absolutely be considered the star of this recording with Chang getting the footnote instead. This is simply not the case; from the ridiculously posed glamour photos filling the liner notes to the balance of the performance itself, this album is all about Chang. The most fulfilling aspects are the orchestral tuttis. Orpheus is truly at its best here, playing with as much energy and passion as the much ballyhooed recording with the Venice Baroque Orchestra.
Vladimir Spivakov is one of the world's best-known violinists and a highly regarded conductor, and is respected for his worldwide humanitarian activities. His hometown of Ufa is in Russia's Ural Mountains, the low range traditionally regarded as the division between Europe and Asia…
When the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields began to popularize Vivaldi's music in the 1970s, it was on the cutting edge with its light, warm chamber orchestra sound, burnished to technical perfection yet sounding completely different from its symphonic cousins. Now, a recording like this one, with star violinist Joshua Bell, sounds conservative in comparison with young bucks like Fabio Biondi on the historical-performance side or even the young Dutch firebrand Janine Jansen. This big-budget (by classical standards) release is the kind of thing you don't see so often now, with a big poster showing Bell carefully decked out in a partially undone tie, as well as individual full-color cards reproducing, in Italian and English, the descriptive seasonal sonnets that provide the program for the four concertos. It could have collapsed under its own weight, but Bell pulls it off. Conducting the Academy strings himself, he forges tight, not-overly-sweet recordings of Vivaldi's four familiar concertos, with a nice contrast between orchestra and solo that showcases his easy, compelling agility and his Heifetz-like sharpness and brilliance.
Pianist Jacques Loussier has certainly had an unusual career, much of it spent performing jazz interpretations of Bach's music. While his original works have been noteworthy, Loussier's most famous projects have been his transformations of Bach's music. In 1997 he tackled Vivaldi's Four Seasons, four concertos that he performed and recorded with his trio. ~ AllMusic