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Italian musicians record vivid `Four Seasons'

The early-music movement has never lacked provocateurs, musicians willing to make points about style by stretching the limits of the style itself. The field is still apparently fertile: Il Giardino Armonico, a band of young musicians from Milan, has found fresh approaches to even the most overly recorded baroque works.

Vivaldi's Details: Recognizing the ubiquity of the "Four Seasons," musicians have adopted many strategies to make their readings stand apart from the pack, with recent entries including performances that transfer the solo line to a recorder or a jazz clarinet.Il Giardino Armonico's performance (Teldec 4509-97671) proceeds from the view that Vivaldi's scores, and the pictorial sonnets affixed to them, pose sufficient interpretive challenges. The sonnets, after all, describe bird calls, breezes, atmospheric disturbances of every sort, a hunting party, a sleepy autumn afternoon and the chill of winter, and the music captures every shadow.

Il Giardino lets none of these details pass. By combining period instrument timbres and stylish ornamentation with a modern sense of dynamic fluidity and continuous reconsideration of balances, they create an obsessively nuanced account and unquestionably the most vivid performance in a crowded market.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the performance is that although much of the playing is quite beautiful, these musicians seem not to regard timbral sheen as a virtue in itself, and they happily sacrifice it in the service of Vivaldi's effects.