The Consort

This is a very fine performance of an attractive composition which is potentially of great significance, although it has rarely been recorded. The Four Seasons of Giovanni Guido, who was born around 1675 and died some time after 1728, may well have formed a model for Vivaldi’s ever-popular work of the same title. It is here performed with great delicacy and vivaciousness by solo violinist Caroline Balding with the Band of Instruments. This is an Oxford-based group who employ two violins, cello, bass and harpsichord on this recording, which was made at New College , Oxford .

Guido was probably born in Genoa; he studied violin in Naples, and subsequently worked in Paris as Master of Music to Philippe II of Bourbon (1674-1723), Regent of France. Philippe was a patron of music who favoured the Italian musical style, which Guido was in part responsible for introducing to French audiences, according to Titon du Tillet. Guido’s composition compares very well with Vivaldi’s in quality: it is varied, attractive, graceful and colourful.

The ‘Musical divertissements on the four seasons of the year’ survive in a set of undated printed parts published at Versailles. An anonymous cycle of poems, entitled ‘Les caractères des Saisons’ is printed at the beginning of the score. Each movement draws on the poems, and phrases from them are printed in the score, where musical ideas illustrate the text. In form, the movements resemble French suites, while their style is Italianate. Since the four concerti were probably composed in 1716-17, they are likely to predate Vivaldi’s Le Quattro Stagioni of 1723 by at least five years, although the evolution of Vivaldi’s four concerti is itself unclear: in his dedicatory preface to op.8, he described them as old works which would ‘appear new’ to his patron because he had added ‘a very clear statement of all the things that unfold in them’.

The inspiration for Guido’s concertos appear to have been four oval panels depicting the four seasons, painted by Watteau between 1713 and 1716 in the dining room of a wealthy Parisian, Jean-Pierre Crozat. It is possible that Crozat commissioned both the anonymous poems and Guido’s music, to mark the completion of, or harmonise with, his dining room. The fascinating background history is outlined by Michael Burden in the informative CD flier, which is also translated into Italian.

The four oval panels depicting the seasons are also reproduced, together with the four poems (for which an English translation would have been helpful, although the French is not too complex). The only surviving portrait of Guido, a drawing by Watteau, is also reproduced in the flier. Divine Art is to be commended for bringing to us this little-known music, which is both historically important and beautiful.

—Elizabeth Rees