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First Impression’s Music: The Four Seasons

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It is hard to accept any other Four Seasons after having lived with Berlin Philharmonic’s version with its massive string section. I, like any classical music admirer worth his salt, bought my first copy of the quintessential piece the moment it was available on CD in 1984. The fact that I was fortunate enough to have gotten this hot copy that day did not prepare me for a musical impression that I would stubbornly rely on as reference for the work for the ensuing twenty years. That mindset of mine would change with the arrival of First Impression Music’s Four Seasons.

Recorded in 1992 at Italy’s Chiesa di S. Vigilio church by Wolfram M. Burgert of Appassionato AG of Switzerland, the master tape was remastered by Paul Stubblebine in 2001 via the Sony DSD mastering system, as well as Pacific Microsonics’ Super HDCD 24-Bit system. The disc’s booklet contains a line of recognition to David Kawakami and Gus Skinas of the Sony SACD Project in the production of the hybrid SACD. This review examines the disc via its CD layer.

The sound of this recording went through virtual metamorphoses, sounding spacious and dimensional with the Audio Note AN-E SEC Silver speakers, and produced mesmerizing energy in the hands of the Tannoy Churchill Wideband’s 15-inch Dual-Concentric™. In addition, whether I was using the tubed, Audio Note DAC 5 Special or the transistor-based Harmonix Reimyo DAP-7777 20bitK2, the overriding impression has consistently been one of agility and resolution. Let me address the agile aspect first.

The performing ensemble is the 8-person Sonatori De La Gioiosa Marca, a chamber music group founded in Treviso, Italy, in 1983. The ensemble’s very size contributed to my initial apprehension towards its small-scale methods. What Berlin Philharmonic offered with its massive string section was the sonically luxurious and overwhelming experience, one that is impossible to resist even to the most novice of listeners. Yet, out of my reviewing the 8-person-ensemble’s performance, I began to understand its legitimacy. Reviewing turned into an exploration of repeating playing and more careful listening. Then, I got it.

At a little over a mere 36 minutes, the Italian ensemble’s version is among the fastest, and suitably so. Sonatori De La Gioiosa Marca gave me a Spring that filled my listening room with merriness, not massive scales of happiness, attaining a more real sense of bustling business. Summer storms became an amazingly personal experience. When Autumn came with a rich sense of festiveness and fruitfulness, it was finally contrasted by the stern mood of Winter.

As I listened to each sub-section within the movements, I found the sound created by the single instruments more and more involving and personable, with a sonority so luscious that I couldn’t resist. So much so that in more than one session, I felt the need for more, thus listened past The Four Seasons into the six movements of the two remaining works, Concerto for 3 Violins, viola & Bass in F Minor, RV 551, and Concerto for Strings in D Minor, RV 128. Tremendous fun that had been.

The real star of the ensemble was solo violinist Giuliano Carmignola and his 1722 Petro Guarnei violin. While other members of the ensemble is equally indispensable, you have not heard what today’s high-end digital can do for Carmignola’s Guarnei. The rendition of the instrument was so resolute with a sound so sonorous, there were times during frantic successions when I feared for the well-being of the violin.

By audiophile standard, the CD layer of this hybrid SACD sounds exceptionally well-defined and opulent, with some of the most impressive dimensionality and tonality to boast. The most popular classical music performed by the composer’s own countrymen and produced with the most resolute of sound available: this is a most worthy newcomer to the vast classical vaults, and every audiophile with a classical heart ought to experience it.

Review System:

47 Laboratory 4704 PiTracer CD transport with two Power Humpties
Harmonix Reimyo DAP-777 20bitK2 DAC
Loth X JI300 integrated 300B amplifier
Tannoy Churchill Wideband loudspeaker

Via Audio Note Sogon digital cable, Sogon interconnects, AN-Vx interconnects, AN-SPx speaker cable

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