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Recordings of the Month


piano music Vol 4


Songs of Love and Sorrow

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Max RICHTER (b.1966)/Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Recomposed: The Four Seasons [43:58]
Daniel Hope (violin)
Konzerthaus Kammerorchester Berlin/André de Ridder
rec. 12-13 March 2012, b-sharp studio, Berlin
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 481 0044 [43:58]

Experience Classicsonline

This is another in a series we’ve encountered before, with Mahler’s unfinished Symphony No. 10 emerging as an intriguing and at times lugubrious monument through the mind of Matthew Herbert (see review). To my mind this was ultimately unsatisfying as a piece in its own right, but appreciation goes out to Deutsche Grammophon for daring to seek out and support musical byways beyond the mainstream.
You can’t get much more mainstream than Vivaldi’s Four Seasons when it comes to classical record repertoire, and I don’t suppose there are many of you who have only one version on your shelf or hard-drive somewhere. This is much loved and immensely popular music and justly so, with Vivaldi’s colourfully descriptive music offering up a seemingly endless source for interpretation and virtuoso display. Have you never wondered what it would be like to find a genuinely ‘new’ Vivaldi Four Seasons?
I have to admit coming to Max Richter’s ‘Recomposed’ album having already read reviews ranging from the incurably bewildered and confused to the damningly critical, so I wasn’t expecting to like it much. The project is not without its weaknesses it has to be said, but I have to declare being pleasantly surprised by this CD. Given some moments of respectably subtle electronic treatment here and there, this is largely a well performed genuine string orchestra recording with superb solo lines from Daniel Hope, and as a result it largely lives up to the deliberately ‘classic’ DG cover design and yellow tulip-ringed CD like an old LP label, providing a nicely produced and highly satisfying listening experience.
The more you listen to this music the more you discover about its sources, and the eclectic nature of much of what is going on is my main problem with the final result. There are almost inevitable associations with the Balanescu/Nyman/Baroque Pastiche axis throughout this disc, and this almost unavoidable connection has to be forgiven. Many of the tracks have a distinctly film-music feel though, and I would bet a fistful of dollars that there will be sections from this album appearing over a Hollywood romance or desolate battlefield in search of something other than Barber’s Adagio in a cinema near you soon.
The opening is an all too short “dubby cloud” of treated string sound which reminds me of bits of John Adams’ Shaker Loops. This moves directly into a Spring 1 with some nice added pastoral Aaron Copland bass lines. Spring 2 is directly descended from Philip Glass in lyrical mood, and Spring 4 is that faintly amusing romantic scene with our young things missing each other unwittingly and constantly in fountain-rich parks and bustling shopping malls. Summer 1 sounds like straight Vivaldi until variation is added into those rhythmic chords to create a dynamic field of sound over which the solo violin can soar. The truncated ending is Nyman-esque, but Richter avoids further association through some nice harmonic twists and by not adding in wailing saxophones. Summer 2 is an atmospheric war-movie suspense moment, with singing telegraph-wire upper strings, gently clattering middle voices and a descending bass-line passacaglia to support some moody solo lines on solo violin and cello. Thankfully stopping short of adding drums of one kind or another, Summer 3 is exciting “relentless pulsed music”, the unprepared violin solo entry at 0:31 the first of only a very few genuinely clunky compositional moments.
Autumn 1 will remind listeners of a certain age of misused LPs in which needles jumped grooves, Vivaldi’s music having had little bits chopped out of it. This is one of Richter’s less glorious ideas, though convincingly played by Hope and the orchestra. Autumn 2 places a harpsichord and the strings in an acoustic halo, seeking associations with “pop records from the 1970s… including various Beach Boys albums and the Beatles’ Abbey Road.” Very brief, Autumn 2 brings us back to somewhere near Appalachia crossed with John Adams. Winter 1’s crisp chills are again almost pure Vivaldi on a dirty LP which is making the needle jump again, this time to create a groovy syncopation which alas grows old very quickly. Winter 2 will appear in our Hollywood film in that chill moment after lots of horrendous things have happened and suspicion still lingers behind the eyes of our young things, just before the final reconciliation and unexpected happy ending - the glance of recognition through a frosted pane of glass in a fraction of time which could go either way for our young things. Winter 3 is a speeded up moment which you may or may not be able to stretch back out and drop into something like Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.
For all my glib remarks dumped on a lot of people’s hard work, this is the kind of well performed and produced CD which can form an undemanding popular introduction to ‘the real thing’ for a wide audience, or additional Vivaldi fun for committed fans of The Four Seasons who might have it as the only ‘classical’ disc in their collection. Weighed up against the original, I would say Max Richter’s Recomposed adds more of a series of novelty appendages to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons rather than really extending our enjoyment of or introducing genuinely new perspectives on this baroque masterpiece. In other words, I’ll still be taking a good performance of the Vivaldi over this to my desert island given the choice. This comment of course misses the point of this release, and I doubt Max Richter would make any claim that he is ‘improving’ Vivaldi with this recording. The questions are: does it stand on its own right? Yes, but jaw-droppingly original and destined for classic status it ain’t. Does it add something new? The answer again is yes: new and attractive, but alas not really innovative, given the shopping list of somewhat stereotypical nuances and clearly traceable influences.  

Dominy Clements

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