The Classical Reviewer

Little is known about the Italian composer and violinist Giovanni Antonio Guido (c.1675-c.1728). My old set of Groves doesn’t have an entry for Guido or Antonio, the alternative that Guido was thought to sometimes use. He was probably born in Genoa and from 1683 he studied violin at the conservatory in Naples. From 1702 he was in Paris at the service of the Duke of Orleans, where he remained until at least 1728. There is an account of a concert performed at Fontainebleau in front of the English Queen Anne in November 1703, where Guido is referred to as an excellent violinist in the service of the Duke of Orleans, a supporter of Italian music.

Through his connection with the Duchess du Maine Sceaux, a favourite of Louis XIV, Guido gained the attention of the King. In1707 he was granted a privilège général enabling him to publish his works. That year a collection of six motets was printed in Paris and, a few years later, two sonatas for two violins and basso continuo were published. From 1714 to 1724 he took part in concerts organized in the home of the financier P. Crozat. These evenings were attended by writers, artists, musicians, as well as members of the aristocracy, including the Duke of Orleans. Among these was Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) who painted some of those present at the concerts including Guido whose portrait dated, Paris Sept. 30. 1720, is now in the Louvre, Paris.

There is no known information about Guido after 1728 and the place and date of his death is unknown. Guido had greater fame as a violinist than as a composer, but in his compositions he was able to combine the Italian style with the French.

It is not known when Guido wrote his four concerti Le Quattro Stagioni (The Four Seasons) but they were certainly very popular in France.

Divine Art Recordings have just released a new disc of Guido’s Le Quattro Stagioni played by the Band of Instruments directed by Roger Hamilton with Caroline Balding (violin). Interestingly, this new release has a reproduction of Watteau’s portrait of Guido in the CD booklet.

The five movement Concerto No.1 Le printemps (Spring) opens with a movement marked Le temps vole: Presto – La nuit: Adagio e piano – Chant des coucous: presto. It begins very much in the Italian style, with rapid bowing in the opening presto. There are some rich bass textures in the adagio of this movement and with the second allegro we have sunny Italian string sounds.

Marked Les ruiseaux Andante-Adagio – Les oiseaux: Adagio the second movement is introduced by solo harpsichord in a beautifully decorated passage taken up by the strings that has much of a French feel to it. In the andante, one could imagine dancers at the French court. Air de trompette: Allegro is a lively movement with incisive playing and bowing from Caroline Balding. This is a lovely rhythmic movement with great playing. The fourth movement, Muzette: Tendrement , a little muzette has some lovely timbres and in the final movement, Danse de bergers: allegro there is a lovely bouncing allegro to conclude this concerto.

The Italian style is certainly here in this work but with subtle French inflections. This band of six players is absolutely top notch.

Concerto No.2 L’esté (Summer) is in ten movements starting with L’air s’enflame: Spiritoso – Zephire disparoit: Adagio e piano – Chant des coucous: Presto which has a varied and lively spiritoso , a short Adagio e piano and a presto , bright and joyful with lovely playing. The second section marked Vole a notre secour a Ceres adorable: adagio has a wistful adagio somewhat reminiscent of Corelli and the Descente de Ceres: Spiritoso has some terrific interplay of strings in the spiritoso – a lovely movement.

Danse des moissoneurs Allegro – Allegro has a bass drone below a lively string tune. There is great invention here with even a Scottish feel. The largo has a beautiful working out of a simple little descending motif before the six movement Dance des faunes: Allegro , a crisp allegro with great ensemble throughout.

Menuet des nimfes is a slow menuet , full of charm and grace, with a lovely tune, full of feeling and sensitivity. A short preludio introduces the ninth movement Serenade: L’amant respectueux: Allegro . Here the Italian influence shows again. There are slow sections that alternate and lovely little figurations on the violin. The final movement marked Un violant orage: Prestissimo has a fiery final prestissimo almost outdoing Vivaldi in its panache.

The Concerto No.3 L’Automne (Autumn) returns to the five movement format and opens with Celebrons le retour de l’automne: Allegro assai – Les cris et ris des baccantes: Allegro assai. Autumn really comes in with the brisk flowing allegro assai with a lovely little rising counter melody. The second allegro assai is full of invention, beautifully done where strings answer the solo violin.

A moderately paced, light and varied second movement allegro shows the variety in this music, but never rushed. Sommeil: Adagio e piano – presto – adagio has a finely wrought adagio with some lovely playing and a short presto central section.

The fifth movement Allegro has some lovely phrasing from the violins as they follow one another in this attractive movement before the final La Chasse: allegro – Fuite ducerf: presto – Mort du cerf: adagio – prestissimo – allegro . La chasse has a slow galloping rhythm which soon gives way to a faster trot in the presto . A chill arrives in the adagio which slowly begins to move forward until the prestissimo banishes the cold and leads back to the opening allegro theme.

Concerto No.4 L’hiver (Winter), again in five movements, opens with La saison des frimats: Largo – Le Cruel Aquillon nous declare la guerre: Prestissimo where winter creeps in with a tentative largo in short string phrases (and do I detect the tune to twinkle, twinkle little star?), before the prestissimo arrives, full of energy, blowing aside everything. Prenez soin de vos jours: Adagio is a slightly mournful adagio and the third movement Marche des guerriers: Vivace is a sprightly piece with a bounce to the rhythm that seems to give a warmth and a glow.

Les riantes fêtes: allegro is an expansive, lively allegro full of instrumental weavings followed by the last movement Laissons gronder les vents – Brannissons la tristesse: Prestissimo a joyful prestissimo that concludes this concerto with a richness of sound that belies the size of this little band. There are two lovely, almost Handelian, sections, the last forming the coda.

Whether Guido has his own voice is difficult to say without hearing more of his music. He certainly knew how to write attractive music, full of invention and lovely sonorities. There are apparent influences of other composers but they are more generalised than specific.

If anyone is tired of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and I suspect many will be, then this new disc provides a refreshing alternative with thrilling playing. The recording made in New College, Oxford, is first rate.

—Bruce Reader