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As I write this review (summer 2008), arkivmusic.com lists 223 recordings of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. Add to that number the recordings that are no longer available, and recordings of just a single concerto or even just a single movement. There are recordings made in the studio, before an audience, on period instruments, on modern instruments, and some novelty transcriptions such as the "Koto Vivaldi" played by the New Koto Ensemble of Tokyo. Most recordings detach the four descriptive concertos from the larger work Il cimento dell’Armonia e dell’Inventione, op. 8; published in 1725 when Vivaldi was 47. We also have The Four Seasons available on a number of DVDs, and now in surround sound. Arkivmusic.com lists eight SACD Four Seasons, not counting this new TACET, which has “TACET Real Surround Sound” written three times on the cover. Three! The cover art also features an artist’s rendering of a vacuum tube and we are told: "Tube Only / Transistorfrei." To make certain we appreciate the sonics of this disc, when the CD is removed from the case, on the reverse side of the back liner card is written "The TACET sound—sensuous and subtle."

There are audiophiles who maintain that vacuum tubes deliver a sound that is warmer and more natural than the sound reproduced from transistors. Whether that is true for your ears or not, the sound on this TACET release is very good, especially when played on equipment capable of separating the sound into the five channels. Very little use, if any, is made of the subwoofer, so the music does not have a bass-heavy thunder found in some 5.1 recordings, yet is still rich and full, with pleasing overtones and acoustic resonance. Musicians and concertgoers will notice that the instruments are arranged in a circle surrounding the listener rather than the usual arrangement where the musicians appear in the front speakers and the rear speakers capture sounds that resonate to the back of the hall. Playing this disc while sitting in the center is a unique listening experience that allows the listener to experience each of the instrumentalists individually and almost forces one to listen closely.

I liked the performance too. The Polish Chamber Philharmonic and soloist Daniel Gaede reached into the "text" of The Four Seasons and brought out the many moods and details. There is an unforced, conversational quality to the playing, in many places a dance-like lilt, in others a soulful reflection. The booklet (after many pages discoursing about the sensuous sound and many photographs of microphones and sound equipment) details the musical descriptions of each concerto. The booklet reads, "Descriptions (probably by Vivaldi himself) of what is depicted in the music can be located in a number of sources (as indicated exclusively in the SACD version)." These descriptive passages can be accessed by index numbers, presuming you have a CD player that acknowledges index numbers. Most are musical depictions of animals, precipitation, and climate, except for the “Autumn” Concerto that deals with villagers, drunkards, and hunting. To illustrate: here are the musical descriptions of the "Spring" Concerto: song of the birds; trickling of the springs; thunder; song of the birds; murmuring of leaves and plants; and country dance. Raise your hand if you knew this.

I liked everything about this disc. I don’t know if I found the sound sensuous, but it was extraordinarily pleasing to the ear and the performances were equally pleasurable. Since The Four Seasons only runs about 40 minutes, two other Vivaldi violin concertos are appended. They are performed with the same good taste and lilt as are the better-known Seasons concertos.

David L. Kirk

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