Vivaldi is greatly overrated
Lately, a few people have asked me what LPs they need to start a “best of” classical music collection. Navigating the interminable realm of classical recordings is daunting at best, so here’s a list of the most popular, need-to-own, works, in chronological order. I’ve also included two or three (totally subjective) standout performances on vinyl.
The Four Seasons (1723) / Antonio Vivaldi
Generally what people think when you mention the term Baroque. Vivaldi completed these 4 concerti for violin to convey, it’s believed, the countryside around Mantua. Probably the most (over)recorded piece ever composed, with ensembles doing everything they can to distinguish themselves from the staggering quantity of different versions, like changing tempi and instrumentation, it remains a staple of the repertoire.
Neville Marriner leads the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, in a performance on period instruments. Long considered the gold standard of the work, it’s probably the closest thing to hearing The Four Seasons as Vivaldi himself may have heard it.
A more modern, extremely fresh, version from Pinchas Zukerman and the English Chamber Orchestra.
Max Richter’s 2012 minimalist tweaking of the The Four Seasons provides a meditative, gorgeous listening experience. Besides being a deeply felt update of Vivaldi, it’s one of the best-sounding contemporary vinyl pressings out there.
As a postscript, it’s best to stay clear of big orchestra renditions, such as Herbert van Karajan’s peculiarly large-scale recording, with Ann-Sophie Mutter as violin soloist. And really anything with the name Nigel Kennedy attached to it.