Vivaldi: The Four Seasons; Concertos for Double Orchestra, RV 582 and RV 581.
David Juritz, London Mozart Players.
Naxos has been around since 1987, initially supplying budget priced CDs to customers in South-East Asia. A licensing glitch soon after launch was turned into an opportunity to launch a global company with its own catalogue. For budget reasons the early catalogue was recorded in Eastern Europe with performers and engineers drawn from a pool of local, highly talented individuals with no previous exposure on the world market. As the label’s success has grown, recordings have been produced in North America and Western Europe. It’s fair to say that Naxos has challenged the major labels on their own turf and has picked up critical acclaim and awards in the process.
It’s no surprise therefore that Naxos has entered the DVD-Audio market fairly early. They have chosen a well-known work for their first release – almost everybody is familiar with at least parts of The Four Seasons. The accompanying works are two lesser-known concertos written by Vivaldi for the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.
David Juritz’s performance on this recording is simply scintillating. It is easy to forget how technically demanding these works are – Vivaldi was well ahead of his time in the demands he makes upon the soloist but Juritz is well up to the job, and certainly on a par with the two other performances of this work which I own on CD – [Nigel] Kennedy and the English Chamber Orchestra (EMI, ASIN: B000002RQN) and various soloists from the Academy of Ancient Music on the Academy’s recording on Decca’s L’Oiseau-Lyre label (L’Oiseau-Lyre – #10126, ASIN: B000004CX5). Excellent examples are the cuckoo imitations in the Allegro (first movement) of Spring, the Presto (third movement) of Summer and the Allegro (third movement) from Winter. My preference is usually to hear works like these performed on period-style instruments (gut strings etc) and without modern flourishes like excessive use of vibrato. Juritz steers the correct course in his performance – although he uses a modern instrument, he does not go over the top with the flourishes and he is to be complimented for that. The orchestra hangs together very well and never seems to overpower the soloist and the performances are also nicely paced – if these works are left to plod along they lose a lot of their liveliness, if that’s not stating the obvious! The one thing that I do miss from the AAM performance is the use of a baroque guitar in the continuo, but that is a relatively small matter, and one that falls under the discretion of the conductor.
Before sitting down to listen to this disc, I was not familiar with the two Concertos for the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, but they are interesting and engaging works, which again allow David Juritz to show us what he is made of. They are full of virtuoso fireworks which Juritz takes completely in his stride. The solo violin and the double orchestra weave quite a complex musical texture, in which the recording really helps to immerse the listener.
A few more details about the recording: The Four Seasons is presented in what has become a fairly standard mix – the front three channels taking on the main part of the presentation, with the surrounds providing ambient effects. It is well executed – the surrounds do not draw undue attention to themselves, but fill in the presentation very well and they are certainly missed if you deactivate them. The composition of the other two concertos allows for something rather more daring. As I mentioned before, these pieces are written for two orchestras and soloist. The producers have really involved the listener in the action here by placing the listener in the space occupied by the soloist, with one orchestra in front and the other in the rear. Audiences are rarely allowed to be so involved in the perfromance, and it makes for a most enjoyable listening experience, but one which will test the capabilities of your rear speakers.
There is really little to fault with the fidelity of this recording in any of the three soundtracks, which are just about on a par with each other. The MLP track just gets the nod in my opinion – you can hear the rosin and fingers on the strings. A word of caution though: all three tracks are presented in 5.0 format, i.e. without a dedicated subwoofer channel for the lower end. In systems without adequate bass management for DVD-Audio, less capable speakers may have difficulty reproducing the bass information adequately. In this case the DD or DTS tracks may be preferable, as most DD and DTS capable receivers or processors have adequate bass management and can route the bass information to the speakers best able to handle it. This was, however, not a problem in my system.
A still image accompanies each track (each track has a different image, but the same set of images is used irrespective of the audio format selected). Disc extras include artist biographies, programme notes and a little detail about the recording techniques employed. Those who prefer to skip menus before getting to the programme will appreciate the fact that when you press play, the audio begins to play almost immediately, without having to be activated from a menu. The menus are only available by hitting the menu button once the programme starts. For audio only material (as opposed to movies on DVD-Video), I like this approach, to which we have become accustomed in the older music formats.
In summary, this is an excellent first DVD-Audio release from Naxos and K&A Productions. Juritz and orchestra have turned in a first class performance and the recording and production allow it to shine. And even better, in line with Naxos’ previous policy of making their recordings readily “available”, the DVD-Video elements are not region-protected. Even better, the disc has a retail price of $14.99. Well done, Naxos, keep them coming!