Recomposed by Max Richter (CD review)

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:

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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 Jon 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.

Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simpleminded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.

Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

Mission Statement

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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa