American Record Guide

Giovanni Antonio Guido (c 1675 to after 1728) was a contemporary of Vivaldi; his Four Sea­sons takes the poetic conceit into French court life. The piece survives in an undated set of parts, printed in Versailles and listed as Opus 3. It may or may not pre-date Vivaldi’s famous set of four violin concertos (published in 1725, but available in manuscripts for a number of years before that), but the answer as to who-copied-who doesn’t really matter. Guido’s seasons are French suites with many movements, not Italian violin concertos.

Among the few details known of Guido’s life is that he was in the service of the Duc d’Orleans, a great patron of music and an enthusiast of the Italian style. Guido adapted that style for the enjoyment of his patron. As with Vivaldi, poems were attached to each piece, either by the composer or an editor, and in the Guido suites short excerpts from the poems are matched to the movements. The complete poems are printed in the booklet (in French only) and the text fragments are included in the track listing. It would be helpful for the listener to have English translations, at least of the fragments.

The performances by The Band of Instru­ments are completely engaging. They have mastery of all the effects Guido comes up with (chirping birds, marching warriors, laughing Bacchantes, and crashing storms among them) and they play with energy, imagination, character, and poetry. Some movements – such as Muzette and Danse Des Bergers from ‘Spring’ – are characteristically French, and others – such as the opening of ‘Summer’ – lean towards the Italian style before turning to French elements such as a cuckoo’s song with a “knitting” accompaniment that brings Couperin’s harpsichord suites to mind.

There are some human characters too, and the ensemble brings them vividly to life: for example the respectful lover (L’Amante Respectueux from ‘Summer’) makes a deep reverence when approaching his beloved, and the hunters pursue a deer first with surging force and then with tiptoeing stealth (‘Autumn’). ‘Winter’ starts with hushed tones and chilled pauses, but ends with good cheer, banishing sadness in a prestissimo flourish.

There is a recording of a Four Seasons Guido piece on a disc by the Arte dell’Arco ensemble, but it can’t be the same piece as here. There the Guido is coupled with the Vivaldi, but the total timing is 56 minutes, and the Guido alone here is 66 minutes. There is no reference in the present booklet to any other Seasons by Guido or to a shorter version. The CPO was reviewed twice in ARC (S/O 2004 & N/D 2012); perhaps it’s just selected passages. Ms Crawford found it a charming and lively imitation, whereas Mr Haller found it a pleasant but pallid trifle compared to Vivaldi. Both praise the addition of a significant contingent of winds and horns in the arrangement of the Vivaldi.

The present “complete” recording is a real find and a grand evening’s divertissement. The musicians of The Band of Instruments prove themselves extremely fine advocates of this inventive music.

—Catherine Moore