Last night the Scottish Chamber Orchestra performed at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, with Jaime Laredo conducting and performing as violin soloist in Vivaldi's "Four Seasons." A recording of that music by these musicians has just appeared on the British Contour label (CC 7575), and it is a handsome account by any standards.
Laredo, always an elegant and expressive performer (and still the only violinist, I think, to have his picture on a postage stamp), has his ensemble honed to a fine edge in terms of vigor, discipline and tonal warmth. If the general character of the performance is somewhat more romantic than baroque specialists may find appropriate, it is good to remember that Vivaldi himself was by no means delimited by any conventions in creating these four concertos, and this is music that can sustain a variety of approaches without losing its identity. Here the playing is crisp and the spirit is most appealing.
Specialists, and others, will surely be happy to welcome the digital remake of "The Four Seasons" by an ensemble called the English Concert, with Trevor Pinnock conducting from the harpsichord and Simon Standage playing the solos (DG Archiv 2534.003; cassette 3311.003). Here we have not only "period instruments," but a violone instead of a double bass and, in the continuo, a theorbo, chittarone and organ as well as harpsichord.
The English Concert's earlier recording of "The Four Seasons" (now on Vanguard VSD-71257) was greeted all over as the finest recording of this music, and it is indeed a gem. Many collectors may question whether the advantages of the new digital recording and the fine German pressing make the remake worth the additional cost. The documentation is a little more detailed, but both releases include the full texts of Vivaldi's sonnets.
I would think one of the Pinnock recordings of "The Four Seasons" belongs in every record collection. Laredo's, though, is appealing enough to find a place with collectors who like to have more than a single version.
Laredo's concert last night also included good things we don't often get to hear in any hall. He opened with the Symphony in D major of Juan Crisostomo de Arriaga, the remarkable -- and traggically short-lived (1806-1826) -- "Spanish Mozart," whose string quartets amply justify the sobriquet. The symphony isn't even listed in the current Schwann, and no one in our country but Richard Bales would have the imagination to present it "live," so Laredo's concert was especially welcome for the opportunity it afforded to get acquainted with this work.
In another digitally recorded DG Archiv release, Pinnock and his group are heard in music they have not recorded before, Handel's 12 Concerti grossi, Op. 6 (2742.002, three discs; cassettes 3383.002). These are stylish, mellow performances, with well-judged ornamentation and with the optional wind parts in numbers 1, 2, 5 and 6. The sound itself is gorgeous, and the documentation includes printed incipits for all 12 concertos as well as an illuminating essay by Stanley Sadie.
Personally, I continue to find more pleasure in the performances by the Southwest German Chamber Orchestra under Paul Angerer (Vox QSVBX-558) than in any other recording of these works. There isn't a single movement in the 12 concertos in which Angerer fails to find the ideal pulse, phrasing or texture. He does not use the optional winds (most listeners would rather do without them, I think), and the sound ("QS" quadraphonic) is far less rich than that of the new Archiv set, but it's more than adequate, and the Vox Box happens to be the most economical set of Handel's Op. 6 available. Those who feel there is more in these fine concertos than any single interpreter can reveal, however, may count on the new Pinnock set as the finest of backups for Angerer's.