Janine Jansen is nothing short of a musical virtuoso. Yes, Vivaldi's music is stunning, but Jansen's interpretation is exquisite and while I have a few recordings of The Four Seasons, in my collection, none are quite as compelling as this stripped down version. While a complete orchestra may not have been employed to record this masterpiece, the chamber-sized ensemble beautifully enhances the piece and Jansen's incomparable performance. She certainly makes that near 300-year-old violin, a 1727 Stradivari Barrere, sing.
Of course, the recording, mix, and mastering are absolutely perfect; another instant Decca classic, no pun intended! The Blu-ray High Fidelity Pure Audio (HFPA) release I’m fortunate to have is akin to an out-of-this-world experience for Jansen and the supporting musicians are present in the room with you as you sit back and relax. The transparency is beyond belief and while the Blu-ray Audio allows for Linear PCM (LPCM), DTS-HD Master Audio, and Dolby TrueHD, all presented at 24bit/96kHz, I find that while my preference with these discs is generally DTS-HD Master Audio, the LPCM version is perfect as it provides a crisper representation of the recording. That isn’t to say the DTS-HD Master Audio edition is bad, just that this recording doesn't take advantage of, nor need, the lower end boost that DTS-HD Master Audio tracks generally add to a recording.
Perhaps the only interesting deviation of this reissue, from the original 2004 SACD release, is that the Blu-ray Audio edition is supplied in stereo only, whereas the SACD featured a multichannel mix. The question one must subsequently ask is if a surround sound mix is required to fully enjoy this recording? As I've never heard it, I can't adequately comment, but as I listen to the performance, there are movements where a surround mix may be more enveloping for the listener. That said, it ultimately depends on instrumental placement in the multichannel mix and when a stereo mix is this perfect, the soundstage opens up and ultimately becomes three dimensional, thereby captivating the listener. Subsequently, I have little to no interest in obtaining the multichannel mix, but I do wonder why Decca decided to omit it from this release. I could hypothesise various reasons, but it would just be unfounded conjecture.
What is not conjecture is just how good the iTunes/Apple Music edition is. With many of the Blu-ray Audio releases, Universal Music included an MP3 download code, much the same as they do for vinyl records. Perhaps, if record labels want CD sales to increase, they should include them via that format as well. Or, an even better option would be to, include a free month of TIDAL Hi-Fi, Apple Music, or Spotify et al. I don’t know about you, but the music labels need to make the physical product as compelling as they can, in order to ensure continued support. That said, classical music still remains dominant on physical media and likely will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Regardless, as Jansen's Four Seasons didn’t include a download card, and I was yet to utilise streaming services at the time of release in 2013, I purchased the album on iTunes as well so that I could have this exceptional recording with me, wherever I go. While there is no doubt that there is a difference between the lossy Mastered for iTunes release and the Blu-ray Audio, the performance shines through and one just can't be disappointed with the Mastered for iTunes release as it’s magical and makes Apple's AirPods come alive. It is amazing how far we’ve come and while there is a slight degradation in quality when compared to the Blu-ray Audio release, it’s minimal and only truly apparent when listening via loudspeakers as the soundstage is a little more shallow, lacking in depth, thereby resulting in me preferring the HFPA release when listening on my main stereo at home. That said, most people will adore the Mastered for iTunes edition and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It is, after all, derived from the same high-resolution master as that used for the Blu-ray Audio. Truth-be-told, if I wasn't fortunate enough to own the HFPA edition, I would still be in awe of Jansen's Four Seasons as the iTunes/Apple Music equivalent is simply exceptional!
Normally at this stage of the review, I would take a look at the individual movements, but in this case, I would prefer to not colour your opinion with my own subjectivity for I consider the entire performance to be spectacular and while I doubt it’s possible, you may subjectively have a different viewpoint. Hence, listen for yourself. Allow the music to touch your soul. Close your eyes if that helps, but whatever you do, don’t listen to this album as background music, at least for the first play through. You’ll thank me later as this recording is most certainly an experience that will move you.
If you would like to own your own copy, Janine Jansen's Vivaldi: The Four Seasons is available on Vinyl, CD, and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes). Unfortunately, the Blu-ray Audio release is becoming increasingly difficult to track down and prices are subsequently climbing to a cost out of the reach of most music lovers, myself included. However, if you can find a copy at a price you can afford, you'll be blown away by not only the quality of sound but by the redesigned booklet that has been reformatted for the, taller-than-CD, Blu-ray liner notes. I mention this merely because many of the HFPA releases were rushed to market and in some cases, the CD booklet was simply printed within the larger canvas of the Blu-ray booklet. A little disappointing for this collector. Nevertheless, Jansen's Vivaldi: The Four Seasons is absolutely flawless, on any format, and would make a lovely addition to any music collection.