by Karl Nehring
Max Richter: Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi: The Four Seasons; Philip Glass: Violin Concerto No. 2 “The American Four Seasons”. Delirium Musicum. Étienne Gara, violin and artistic director. Warner Classics 5054197401930
Étienne Gara, a French-born violinist who says, “my aim in creating this group was to foster an artistic expression nourished by both diversity and the buzz of artists thirsting for uncompromising creativity and unbound musical interpretation.” There have been umpteen bazillion recordings of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons released over the years; it is often one of the first compositions first to capture the attention of listeners who are otherwise unfamiliar with classical music. Moreover, its melodies are familiar even to many people who are otherwise unfamiliar with classical music, so widely has it been played on various media. What Delirium Musicum have chosen to give us on their first recording are two compositions by composers of our time that build upon the foundation of Vivaldi’s composition: a “recomposition” by the German-born British composer Max Richter (b. 1966) and an “American version” by the American composer Philip Glass (b. 1937).
The Richter is a work we have looked at before, when John Puccio reviewed a recording back in 2014 (you can read John's review here) and then again in 2022 when I reviewed another recording, this time featuring the Chineke! Orchestra playing on gut strings and Richter (pictured left) playing a vintage Moog synthesizer in what amounted to a different take on period instrument performance practice (you can find that review here). The Glass, on the other hand, is a work that has not yet been reviewed in Classical Candor although there have been previous recordings of the piece. Both Seasons radiate energy and enthusiasm as the musicians of Delirium Musicum play with both passion and precision. In the Richter, the synthesizer is blended in more seamlessly than in the version the composer himself recorded with Chineke!, the end result sounding more naturally flowing – Vivaldi’s Four Seasons reimagined for the 21st century. It’s delightful!
Glass’s Violin Concerto No. 2, subtitled “An American Four Seasons,” was originally composed in 2008 and dedicated to violinist Robert MacDuffie, who gave the work its premier. It’s an unusually constructed concerto, with four movements rather than the typical three. Yes, you’d expect four movement for “An American Four Seasons,” but no, Glass (pictured right) did not give them titles, instead he just numbered them I-IV. More unusual than having four movements are the four small solo pieces that Glass composed in lieu of a cadenza. There is a Prologue before Movement I, and then each of the final three movements is preceded by a solo violin piece that Glass calls a Song. These songs serve as interludes of reflection rather than frenzied virtuoso showpieces for the violin soloist. The four movements themselves vary in tempo and mood but share the Glass trademark of a repetitive pulse underlying the melody of the soloist above. The overall effect is compelling, none of the movements overstaying its welcome as Glass continually varies the line. Personally, I’ve never been convinced by his symphonies, but this concerto, perhaps because of the smaller forces involved, the number of varied smaller movements, not to mention the sheer energy and enthusiasm of these young musicians – at any rate, this concerto is remarkably entertaining (and, like the Richter piece, great music to enjoy while driving).
The liner notes by Gara are a bit over the top; it would have been good to have some more background on the music along with more information about the group beyond just a listing of their names. The engineering is clean and clear, although mixed in such a way to sound more immersive for headphone/earbud/car stereo listening rather than sound like musicians in a hall through loudspeakers in your listening room. Overall, though, Seasons is good, clean, recommendable twenty-first century musical fun for any season.