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Robert Maxham
Fanfare, September 2011

In Fanfare 30:5, I reviewed Cho-Liang Lin’s readings of the first six concertos from Antonio Vivaldi’s set, op. 6, and suggested that “for those who wish not only to acquire a durable and unmannered, yet bracing and continuously interesting version of the Four Seasons, but also to set themselves up to explore the entire op. 8, Naxos’s recording could hardly be bettered.” I also recommended the set to specialists and, in fact, to everybody, “despite the hordes of robust alternatives.” And that’s about all that needs to be said about the performances. But now Naxos has reissued them, recorded at 24-bit, 88.2 kHz resolution, on a Blu-ray audio disc that offers the choice, in 24-bit, 96 kHz presentation, in either 5.1 DTS-HD or 2.0 PCM. There’s an improved sense of three-dimensional ambiance even in the 2.0 version, so the passagework, as in the third movement of “Spring,” hisses and spits and the contrasts in the first movement of “Summer” strike with hammer force.

I must confess that it took me a long time to warm to CD sound in violin music, and even now, analog LPs sometimes provide blessed relief…The problem arises for me because I’m usually listening close up and for extended periods of time to the higher registers of a reedy melodic instrument; the CD sampling rate of 44.1 kHz just doesn’t do it justice. Years ago, I compared Naxos’s earlier release of Vivaldi’s Seasons on CD and on DVD-audio, and the latter won hands down. SACD also provides an escape hatch from the edgy world of CD violins, but Blu-ray sounds smooth as silk.

A CD’s wide dynamic range and freedom from tape hiss mean less to me than bringing the violin’s emitted waveforms closer to their analog originals. I’ve discussed this problem with one of Fanfare’s sound gurus, who seemed able to feel my pain. Violin dealers, eager to capture the truest sound image of the masterpieces of lutherie that cross their thresholds, also experience the dilemma and themselves pursue forward-looking solutions for improving resolution. But they don’t listen all day, and I…well, I do. And I confess, CD violins fatigue the ear. I’ve taped violins and performances live and, after listening to the tapes, have marveled at how faithful they sound overall. Then, after transferring them the best way I thought I could and concluding that they sounded satisfactory that way, too, would invariably be shocked (hope springs eternal) at how abrasive the violin sounded in the CD format, compared not only to the original source, but to the analog tape—even after employing technology to smooth the curve.

The Naxos Blu-ray will be the third violin Blu-ray I’ve studied, and I’ve been uniformly impressed. How does the violin sound? Any improvement in definition enhances Cho-Liang Lin’s elegant tone production, but he sounds very sweet here. Of course, that can gauged only in the upper registers; Baroque composers largely avoided their thick G string’s balky lower notes. But you could listen to this kind of violin tone for a long, long time, and for me, that’s heaven. Strongly recommended.



Gramophone, July 2011

Recorded in 88.2kHz/24-bit surround and presented here in a choice of 5.1-channel DTS-HD Master Audio or stereo PCM, this is a sparkling addition to the Naxos catalogue of audio-only Blu-ray releases.

The recording was described in these pages as “invigorating” when it first appeared on Naxos CD, and it has even greater vitality when heard in higher resolution and surround sound. It would be all too easy for this to be yet another Seasons, but this superb recording, as exciting as it is rewarding, makes a solid case for the Blu-ray audio format, and is a true delight. Highly recommended.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2011

If the difference between CD and Blu-ray is not so self-evident as with the Mahler Eighth Symphony I have just reviewed, it does produce some interesting subtle shading. It features the famous violinist, Cho-Liang Lin, playing his 1715 Antonio Stradivari violin, together with the New York based group, Sejong, formed from fifteen outstanding young string players performing on a priceless group of instruments loaned to them. So where does the emotive tag ‘period instrument performance’ begin and end, for this group have those instruments? I suppose it comes back to the fact that the interpretations are very much in the mainstream of those you would find played on ‘modern instruments’, and if you were looking for that quality we now describe as ‘period awareness’ you would look elsewhere. Maybe I am imagining things, but within the immaculate intonation, rhythmic security and virtuosity you do have a tangible feel for each instrument in this Blu-ray version. Lin’s role is to come to the fore in the fast movements with a dazzling display of dexterity, and then to melt into the ensemble to produce the most refined beauty in the slow sections. The major part of the disc is given to The Four Seasons where the choice on disc is almost limitless, but they do add two more from the total of twelve concertos that form the opus 8 concertos. Is this the first Blu-ray Four Seasons? It will certainly stand the test of time.






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