The Avison Ensemble - Vivaldi: Concerti Opus 8 - Audio Video Club of Atlanta
Or, if you want to give its full name, il Cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione, which may be translated 'The Trial (or rather, melding) of both Harmony and Invention,' the idea being that leaps of wild creative inspiration (inventione) are tamed by the disciplined application of artistry (armonia) and something good happens as the result. That good thing was Antonio Vivaldi's pathbreaking set of twelve Concerti Grossi that were published as his Opus 8 in 1725.
Seven of the twelve concerti have descriptive titles. In addition to the first four, known collectively as the Four Seasons, we have Nos. 5, 'La Tempesta di Mare' (Storm at Sea); 6 'il Piacere' (Pleasure), and 10, 'La Caccia' (The Hunt). What distinguished these works from the centuries-old tradition of what we might call 'bow-wow music' was Vivaldi's consummate skill in linking together musical images to create well-defined comprehensive pictures in the listeners imagination, for instance the imitation song of the bullfinch in the first movement of 'Summer', the languid, drooping chords representing the oppressiveness of the summer heat in the succeeding movement, or the icy chains of pizzicati notes that represent the falling of frozen rain in the opening movement of 'Winter'. And, yes, there is the imitation of a barking canine adding to the frenzy of excitement we feel in the second movement of 'Spring'. All of these, and much more, are beautifully characterized in sensitive performances by director/solo violinist Pavlo Beznosiuk and the fifteen members of that fine English organization, The Avison Ensemble.
Greater artistry still is occasioned by the other pathbreaking feature of Vivaldi's Op. 8, the fact that these Concertos were written in 'ritornello form' (literally, 'little return') in which the opening theme, always played by the tutti, returns in part and in closely related keys throughout the movement, separated by eloquent commentary by the solo violin. It is here that The Avison Ensemble really distinguish themselves with their crisp attack, beautifully phrasing and deft articulations in company with Beznosiuk's stunning violin. That, in fact, goes a long way toward explaining why you should consider making this recorded version your favorite among the eight competitive offerings of the complete il Cimento, and 234 of the Four Seasons(!), that are currently listed on the net.