11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
J Scott Morrison
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Who can imagine a world without Vivaldi's 'The Four Seasons'? And yet until Louis Kaufman made this recording back in 1947, that set of violin concertos was barely known except to the cognoscenti and Vivaldi himself was barely better known; the first recording EVER of music by Vivaldi was made in 1942! This 2CD set preserves the Kaufman recording, the first ever made of the Op. 8 'Four Seasons' concertos as well as, from 1950, the other eight Op. 8 concertos (known collectively as 'Il Cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione,' roughly 'Experiment in Harmony and Invention'), and the two-violin concerto, with Peter Rybar playing the second violin. Kaufman himself reckons this recording put him on the map; his memoir 'A Fiddler's Tale,' published in 2002, has a telling subtitle: 'How Hollywood and Vivaldi Discovered Me.' Kaufman was indeed the violinistic voice of Hollywood movies for a matter of decades. When you hear a solo violin in a movie sound track (e.g. Casablanca, Gone with the Wind ['Tara's Theme'], Wuthering Heights, Modern Times, Intermezzo, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) from the '30s and '40s, chances are you're hearing Louis Kaufman. He was the original violist in the Fine Arts Quartet, having studied with the doyen of American chamber music violinists, Franz Kneisel, at what was to later become the Juilliard School. But he and his pianist wife, Annette, landed in Hollywood and stayed there the rest of his life. His widow, Dr. Annette Kaufman, was apparently very helpful in supplying materials for this release. This is the first authorized release of these recordings on CD.
When this first-ever set of 'Four Seasons' recordings came out - on 78s and then quickly on LPs as they took over the market - they were a phenomenon. Indeed, this recording has recently been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. And, of course, it was partially instrumental in setting off the whole baroque music boom that began in the 1950s and which still seems to be gaining steam. These performances were recorded with two different orchestras and two different conductors: 'The Four Seasons,' with the 'Concert Hall Chamber Orchestra' under Henry Swoboda, and, for the other concerti, the Winterthur Symphony under Clemens Dahinden. (The 'Concert Hall Chamber Orchestra' was made up of New York Philharmonic strings, and the recording was mostly made late on New Year's Eve 1947 to avoid a musicians' strike set to start the next day. Edith Weiss-Mann, a pioneering harpsichordist, played continuo, but I can rarely hear her contribution. The excellent Winterthur orchestra sounds larger than the 'Concert Hall' orchestra and was actually made up of Zurich orchestral musicians that recorded frequently under this name. )
What of these performances? I am no specialist in baroque performance practice, but I can hear that the orchestras are probably larger than would be used for present day recordings, and the tuning is modern concert A=440. And I suppose there are some aspects of Kaufman's and the orchestras' playing that are more romantic than baroque--for instance there are occasional portamenti, however, slight, and use of tasteful vibrato that would be abjured by modern-day baroquists. But for me, they are simply lovely. There is no questioning Kaufman's sweet tone or technique or, for its time, style. I first heard these 'Seasons' recordings in the 1950s, just as I was entering college, and can remember sitting up half the night with a classmate marveling at not only the music, which was new to us, but at the playing. For the time, I might add, the recorded sound was pretty darn good, and in this restoration by Victor and Marina Ledin, it is really quite good. One hears a slight amount of surface noise, but this is quickly forgotten.
And in case you don't know the other eight concerti from Op. 8, they are of a piece with their more familiar named siblings, as is the two-violin concerto. The name of Peter Rybar, the other violinist in that concerto, brings back many fond memories for me as he was frequently featured on el cheapo, but very good, classical LPs in the 1950s, the only ones I could afford in my college days. I remember with particular fondness his recording of the Bach Double Concerto with, if memory serves, Henryk Szeryng. He died in 2002 after a long and illustrious career.
At this price, the glories of this set are simply asking to be snapped up by veteran collectors and neophytes alike. This is really just too good to pass up.
2 CDs: 126:34mins
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
I always seem to have liked "The four seasons" and did in fact buy a version many years ago, in a 5 cd box set, if I remember correctly...The Academy of St. Martin in the fields version, conducted by Sir Neville Marriner...if I'm not mistaken. Many other composers featured in that, apart from Vivaldi. Hearing a passage from Vivaldi's great "The four seasons" on that almost sent me. Thought I'd try and find a version of that concerto which actually did send me. The passage occurs right at the start of the concerto...some 1:06 minutes in this version of the concerto.
The sound quality on the version reviewed here by me is clean. It just sounds a wee bit dull though, due to it being mono. The solo violin which features throughout can often sound thin and reedy, not full and rich as in a stereo recording. I suppose it's a bit like those early recordings you hear of Farinelli or opera singers...due to the limitations of the recording process at the time, you don't really get to hear what makes them considered great...at least in their own time. It's for that reason I can't score this cd too highly...I'd say that you really have to WANT to listen to Louis Kaufman (even in mono) to make this a necessary purchase.
Anyway, what made exploring this version of the concerto was the fact that the Louis Kaufman recording is cited as the first version to be recorded...plus the fact that it is also a Grammy winner or something...and maybe has been put in an American museum or something for posterity. Wikipedia's entry for this concerto states:
"The first recording of The Four Seasons is a matter of some dispute. There is a compact disc of one made by the violinist Alfredo Campoli which is taken from acetates of a French radio broadcast; these are thought to date from early in 1939. The first proper electrical recording was made in 1942 by Bernardino Molinari, and though his adaptation is somewhat different from what we have come to expect from modern performances, it is clearly recognisable. This first recording by Molinari was made for Cetra, issued in Italy and subsequently in the United States on six double-sided 78s in the 1940s. It was then reissued on long-playing album in 1950, was once again reissued on compact disc.
Not surprisingly, further recordings followed. The next was in 1948 by the violinist Louis Kaufman, mistakenly credited as the 'first' recording, made during the night in New York using 'dead' studio time and under pressure from a forthcoming musicians strike".
As for what you hear on this two disc release...violins, solo violin, harpsichord and cellos perhaps. The concertos often are segmented by track. So, you'll often get a more uptempo track, then a more slow tempo track, and a final uptempo track...but all part of the same concerto. I'm not sure if this is typical or not, but it's good if you want to specifically listen to the slow part of the concerto...or the more uptempo part.
The first cd runs to 63:48 minutes in length. The second runs to 62:40. "The four seasons" is listed on the cd as being played by the Concert Hall Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Henry Swoboda, in December 1947. Everything else on the cd is played by the Winterthur Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Clemens Dahinden, in August 1950. Most of the concertos run to around 8 minutes in length or so and a couple of them are a bit short of double that length of time. "The four seasons" is listed as running 37:36 on the cd case. My cd is listed as being a 2005 release.
The four seasons -
Concerto No. 1 in E major, Op. 8, RV 269, "La primavera" (Spring)
"/" The first track is "Allegro" and it is hear which the near sublime passage I was talking about features...it starts at 1:06 minutes into the first track.
The second track is "Largo" (Wikipedia lists these as the tempos, which I spoke of earlier) and it starts off mournfully as far as the lead violin goes...and remains so.
"." The third track is "Allegro pastorale"...in my notes I jotted that it seemed a tempo between the first and second tracks. It's a spritely track in any case. Has a well known violin lick I believe, and nice melodies at times.
Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 8, RV 315, "L'estate" (Summer)
Allegro non molto - Tentative music, slower tempo to start with. Picks up steam and alters tempo.
Adagio - Mournful lead violin intro. Slow tempo, then becoming more dramatic...including dramatic cello "da da da-da" lick.
Presto - "." Dramatic form continues until the violins strike me as being like two dogs gambolling in a meadow...chasing each other...furiously...playfully...if that makes sense...not saying it does. At one point I'd say the music is more "fiddle" than "violin". There's a lovely lick at 1:10 into this track.
Concerto No. 3 in F major, Op. 8, RV 293, "L'autunno" (Autumn)
Allegro - Courtly, jaunty baroque music. Noticed the harpsichord in this. There's a 'shushy' type of static at the start and end of this track, especially. Has a well known lick in this track, I believe.
Adagio molto - Solo violin sounds 'comtemplative' and you hear some sort of strummed instrument...not sure if it is a guitar, or perhaps even a harpsichord! Slow tempo.
Allegro - "(.)" Stately, courtly, jaunty opening...has a nice riff. Kind of music I'd imagine being played at an aristocratic ball. Harpsichord and fiddle feature.
Concerto No. 4 in F minor, Op. 8, RV 297, "L'inverno" (Winter)
Allegro non molto - "(.)" Serious, portentous intro. The violin solo at the start sort of had a touch of gypsy music to it for me...not that I'd know gypsy music if it sat on me. This track may also have a well known violin part in the solo. The music intensifies and the violins bows chop away at the strings, until the famous melody kicks in some 27 seconds from the end of the track.
Largo - "(.)" Violin solo at the start is lovely...not sure, but maybe "Bachian" is an adept description of it? Of course, it would have to be 'vice versa' if correct. Track has a romantic feel to it. Other instruments are plucked...the violin? Not sure, but this track may be influential.
Allegro - Mid-tempo track.
Other concertos (CD 1):
No. 5 in E flat major, "La tempesta di mare" (The storm at sea), RV 253 - Tracks 13-15. 13 is mid-tempo and the harpsichord features briefly at the end. 14 is slow tempo and mostly driven by the solo violin. Harpsichord also features. Sounds like the violin plays the 'do re mi fa so la' melody. 15 is spritelier and sounds like it could have been part of "The four seasons" concerto.
No. 6 in C major, "Il piacere" (Pleasure), RV 180 - Tracks 16-18. 16's intro toys with a melody off of The Four Seasons...the same note progression, I believe, before veering off in another direction. 17 features a harpsichord and is of a slow tempo. The violin solo is tinged with regret. 18 is jauntier.
No. 7 in D minor, RV 242 - Tracks 19-21. 19 is elegant and mid-tempo. Harpsichord features. 20 is a slower tempo and sort of Bachian as far as the violin solo melody goes, at times. If I'm mistaken about my "Bach" analogies, I'd appreciate being put on the right track! 21 is jauntier in a regal sort of way at the start.
Other concertos (CD 2):
No. 8 in G minor, RV 332 - Tracks 1-3. 1 has a sort of familiar intro. Violins, solo violin and harpsichord feature. 2 is a slowly flowing languid piece with loong notes on the solo violin. Violins and harpsichord also feature. 3 is a jauntier track...like a bubbling brook at the start. Theres an odd note sound near the end...maybe a plucked violin string?
No. 9 in D minor, RV 236 - Tracks 4-6. 4 is grand sounding, with violins, harpsichord and a solo violin. The outro seems cliché...be interested to know if even centuries ago this was considered cliché! 5 is languid. 6 is more ceremonious...haughty even. Another cliché outro, it seems to me.
No. 10 in B flat major, "La caccia" (The hunt), RV 362 - ">(.)" - Tracks 7-9. 7 ">(.)" has a sort of familiar intro. Perhaps a coronational sounding piece. 8 ">[.]" is a languid piece with a pensive solo violin. Cello and harpsichord also feature. 9 ">[.]" has a merry, celebratory tone. Energetic. I like the soaring violins.
* No. 11 in D major, RV 210 - Tracks 10-12. 10 is elegant. 11 is sombre and contemplative. 12 is elegant and I LIKE the violin solo part from 0:45 seconds in to 1:33 minutes in. There are PRETTY passages within that, from 0:52 seconds in to 1:17 minutes in.
No 12 in C major, RV 178 - Tracks 13-15. 13 is jaunty. 14 is melancholy yet tender, especially the solo violin. 15 is coronational to my ears at least.
Concerto for two violins in D major, (Peter Rybar, second violin), RV 513 - Tracks 16-18. Not just two violins feature here...you get some symphonic type backing...strings, harpsichord...though the latter is quite faint, if it is used at all in track 16...it becomes clearer in tracks 17 and 18. Track 16 is elegant. 17 is a little pensive. 18 is elegant and has a pleasant melody, e.g. at 3:57 minutes into it.
"Excalibur" motion picture soundtrack. Has the rousing "O fortuna" by Carl Orff as well as other symphonic pieces...some of them coronational sounding...aristocratic in any case.
"The cook, the thief, his wife and her lover" original motion picture soundtrack. Composed by Michael Nyman, who has his own distinct and recognisable style...the modern pop song "Your woman" by White Town put in mind Nyman for me. Anyway, this soundtrack features some lovely choral singing by adults and a boy soprano...or whatever they are called. Some tracks are instrumental though. Generally the album is melancholy, as played by an orchestra.