The previous version [of Four Seasons] by I Musici with Felix Ayo as soloist became the model, in fact, of a particular kind of interpretation—the polished, refined approach favoured by the finest Italian chamber orchestras. As RL said when he reviewed the last reissue only three years ago, the polish and refinement can seem excessive, and I am particularly glad to welcome the present new version from I Musici, in that virtually all the reservations one came to have have been eliminated.
One has only to sample the first few bars of the first two movements of "Spring" to have this marked change brought home. Where the opening in the old version had the rhythms smoothed over (partly the result of having theRead more harpsichord continuo virtually inaudible), the new one is far fresher and brighter with nicely elaborated continuo. In the slow movement the old version concentrated on sweetness of melody, and the staccato comments were smoothed over, where now they provide a nice combination of contrasted textures.
One could go through each concerto to point a similar development, with the new version consistently brighter and fresher in fast movements, sometimes dramatically so as in the outer movements of "Autumn". In the slow movements the new soloist, Roberto Michelucci, has a fine sense of line and a tone as sweet as Ayo's, but he rarely if ever allows the style to grow too sweet, keeping a classical purity. The degree of restraint in the slow movement of "Winter" is most beautifully achieved, and where in the slow movement of "Summer" the earlier version was too smooth to sound ominous before the storm, this new version has floe atmospheric tension. The storm itself was marginally more exciting in the old version, (possibly a result of more reverberant recording) but the new one brings fine pointed comment from the harpsichord continuo.
The only movement where the development is markedly different is the slow movement of "Autumn", where the drunken slumberers relax even more than before at a very slow tempo, with harpsichord arpeggios about as measured as they could conceivably be. Even then the result is not sentimental, though as always through both these performances the group's control of tonal refinement is most acute.
-- Edward Greenfield, Gramophone [12/1970] reviewing the original LP release of The Four Seasons Read less
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