The sequence of four violin concertos which Vivaldi called "The Four Seasons" has in our time generally been thought of as a conductor's vehicle rather than a violinist's showpiece, and it is usually the orchestra's concertmaster who plays the solos. So it is in the newest recording of "The Four Seasons," in which Joseph Silverstein is given second billing to Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony Orchestra--which in this case comprises only 13 strings and a harpsichord (Telarc digital DG-10070).

This is a very enjoyable performance, of the sort to which we have become most accustomed. Tempos are "traditional," and it is all quite comfortable. But what a difference when we encounter a soloist who recognizes the opportunities Vivaldi gave him to shine, with a conductor who goes along with, and encourages, his imaginativeness; we have this in the Deutsche Grammophon recording by Gidon Kremer with members of the London Symphony Orchestra under Claudio Abbado (2531.287; cassette 3301.287).

Kremer is not content to be traditional or comfortable. He and Abbado bring out the wit and character of every movement, every phrase, frequently with tempos faster than we are used to (notably in the final concerto, "Winter"). There is nothing that smacks of difference for the sake of being different, though, and the music comes to life with astounding freshness. The continuo treatment by Leslie Pearson (who alternates between organ and harpsichord) is quite imaginative in its own right, too.

Telarc offers outstanding annotation by Steven Ledbetter, and prints the four sonnets in full, in both Italian and good English translations; DG ought to have given us those verses, but has given us instead a truly outstanding account of the music, quite the most striking to come along in years.------

On Philips 6514.075 (digital; cassette, 7337.075), Kremer plays the Beethoven Violin Concerto with Neville Marriner conducting the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. The conspicuous difference in this case is not one of tempo, phrasing, or general approach to the work, but the cadenzas, written especially for Kremer by the Russian composer Alfred Schnittke (whose Concerto Grosso has been recorded by Kremer).

The cadenzas in both outer movements make use of the drums: hardly inappropriate, since Beethoven himself used the drums in the cadenzas he wrote for his piano transcription of this concerto. The substance, though, makes these cadenzas more of a distraction or interruption than an ornament. The one in the first movement includes references to both Beethoven's own Seventh Symphony and the Brahms Violin Concerto.

Marriner's thoroughly lackluster conducting is more of a disadvantage here than the cadenzas. While this conductor has given us more than acceptable recordings of Beethoven's first two symphonies, he seems out of his element, or simply less interested, in the broader demands of the Violin Concerto. The digital recording is very well focused, and Kremer's playing is gorgeous, but this is a rather incomplete account of the greatest of violin concertos.------

Nothing is incomplete about Itzhak Perlman's digital remake of Lalo's Symphonie espagnole, this time with the Orchestre de Paris under Daniel Barenboim (DG 2530.011; cassette, 3302.011). All five movements are performed, and the filler is the seldom-heard Reverie et Caprice by Berlioz. It's absolutely first-rate in every respect, and a quite reasonable first-choice among all current versions of the much-recorded Lalo.

In another digital release on the same label, Anne-Sophie Mutter plays the Bruch G minor and Mendelssohn E minor concertos with Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic (2532.016; cassette, 3302.016). In terms of skill and handsome tone, Mutter may even be the equal of Perlman, but her pacing--particularly in the Bruch--is so leisurely as to become soporific. Indeed, in the cover photo Karjan looks as if he has already dozed off. Luscious sound, but a little animation would have been welcome.