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CLASSICAL  February 2005

CLASSICAL February 2005

Subject:

The First-Ever Recording of Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons'

From:

Scott Morrison <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 7 Feb 2005 08:24:13 -0600

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Parts/Attachments

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Vivaldi: Op. 8 Violin Concertos ('Four Seasons' + the 8 other Op. 8
concerti; 2-violin concerto
Louis Kaufman, violin (with Peter Rybar, in the double concerto), two
orchestras (rec. 1947 and 1950)
Naxos 8.110297-98

5/5 stars

THE RECORDING THAT STARTED IT ALL

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

Review at

   http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0006OJPOC/classicalnetA/

Scott Morrison

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