Vivaldi: The Four Seasons. Also, Shadows 1-5; "Remixes." Daniel Hope, violin; Andre de Ridder, Konzerthaus Kammerorchester Berlin. DG 479 2776 (CD + DVD).
I don't suppose there's anything new under the sun, and every now and then even the not-so-new becomes new again. Such is the case with British composer Max Richter's reimagining of Vivaldi's perennial favorite The Four Seasons, which Richter recomposed for solo violin, Moog synthesizer, and chamber orchestra. He premiered it at London's Barbican Centre in October 2012, and it soon picked up a huge following for its reductive approach to the old warhorse. Richter has said he discarded about three-quarters of Vivaldi's original material, and the parts he does use he phased and looped, which recall the composer's roots in minimalist and postmodern music.
Whether you'll like Richter's approach, however, is a pretty big question mark. If you can accept his newly reconstructed view for itself, you may just find it fascinating fun. If you're a traditionalist who doesn't appreciate modern musicians messing with established classics, you may hate it. In its favor, and in kind of a bizarre twist of fate, the recording has noted violinist Daniel Hope playing the solo part on a 1742 Guarneri del Gesu violin, Richter on a Moog, and Maestro Andre de Ridder leading the Berlin Konzerthaus Chamber Orchestra in accompaniment.
In a booklet note, Richter explains that he "wanted to get inside the score at the level of the notes and in essence rewrite it, re-composing it in a literal way." Fair enough. He opens the music with what he describes as "a dubby cloud which I've called 'Spring 0.' It serves as a sort of prelude, setting up an electronic, ambient space for the first 'Spring' movement to step into. I've used electronics in several movements, subtle, almost inaudible tings to do with the bass, but I wanted certain moments to connect to the whole electronic universe that is so much part of our musical language today." OK.
Concerning other movements, Richter tells us he wanted to convey the feeling of contemporary dance music and also the style of various pop bands of the 60's and 70's like the Beach Boys and the Beatles. Then he says he thinks the regular patterns of Vivaldi's music connect with his own brand of post-minimalism. He feels it's a natural link between Vivaldi and himself. "Even so," he continues, "it was surprisingly difficult to navigate my way through it. At every point I had to work out how much is Vivaldi and how much is me." And that is the point at issue here, isn't it? How much will a listener enjoy Richter at the expense of Vivaldi and vice versa?
In all fairness, if you keep an open mind and think of this as newly composed music rather than any kind of reinterpretation of Vivaldi, you're likely to enjoy it more. Violinist Daniel Hope takes it all very seriously, as he should, and conveys a sweet note throughout the selections. Although some listeners may feel the antique instrument he plays seems wasted on so little of Vivaldi, I wouldn't count too heavily Richter's claim that he threw out three-fourths of Vivaldi's music. The fact is, much of Vivaldi remains, though some of it repetitiously, and Hope plays it assuredly and sympathetically.
Disregarding the Moog, which doesn't play as big a part in the proceedings as you might expect, this is essentially an old-fashioned reading of Vivaldi, the slow movements taken at fairly slow, steady speeds, with large doses of soft sentimentality along the way, and the fast movements taken at lively, spirited tempos. Whether the performances capture all the vivid color of Vivaldi's tone pictures is still open to question, but there's no denying the arrangements and performances of the works are unique and worth a listen.
In addition to Richter's reimagining of The Four Seasons, the CD includes several other works: Shadows 1-5, a series of "electronic soundscapes" by Richter, and "Remixes" of The Seasons by Richter, Robot Koch, Fear of Tigers, and NYPC. All of them are brief, but they are imaginative and fun.
The advantage of the current 2014 edition of the album over the one DG released in 2012 is that now you get not only the compact disc of the music but a DVD of Hope, Richter, and L'Arte del Mondo (with conductor Werner Ehrhardt) performing the work live in 2013. So, you not only get to hear the score but see a filmed presentation of the musicians playing it, and the cost of the CD + DVD edition is only a little more than the single-disc edition.
In terms of sound, we'll concentrate on the Vivaldi CD work, which Richter produced and Neil Hutchinson engineered at b-sharp Studios, Berlin, in March 2012. Given the degree of electronic augmentation, the sound quality is quite good, showcasing not only a natural ambiance but a spacious, dimensional one as well. The sound of the Moog is reasonably clear and clean, and the sound of the orchestra is warm and well rounded, flattering to the ear if a little soft on inner detailing.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:
About the Author
Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.
Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.
When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.
So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.
Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to email@example.com.