If you are one of those who can’t get enough of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, you’re far from alone — as classical record labels found out long ago, churning out more recordings of it than just about any other piece. Market-savvy present-day composers have picked up on the phenomenal, continued popularity of the Seasons, too, and spun their own variations on the theme for fun, profit, and maybe art. And orchestras frequently pair the Vivaldi original with the contemporary sequels.
So the Four Seasons industry rattles onward with this new release, a pairing of Max Richter’s “recomposed” The Four Seasons with Philip Glass’s Violin Concerto No. 2, which bears the subtitle “The American Four Seasons.” In their debut album, violinist Étienne Gara and his string ensemble Delirium Musicum do the honors, playing Richter and Glass with a fiery spirit and even some vehemence.
Richter, a 57-year-old German-born British post-minimalist composer, has been a leader in the lucrative genre of soothing, benign, chill-out music. His most notorious piece is the eight-and-a-half-hour Sleep, an endurance test that is designed to be a snoozefest and actually works pretty well in that regard. What he does with Vivaldi is fill the latter’s three-movement structures with scraps from the score and some original music in a minimalist style.
Sometimes, Richter takes his Vivaldi straight; most other times, it veers away. The Summer first movement and Winter first movement segments come the closest to Vivaldi; Autumn, movement 3 is the sharpest departure. Glass’s influence is everywhere, right down to the cut-off endings of each short movement, and especially when the music is in a minor key.
The main impression is that Richter defangs Vivaldi’s more descriptive and prickly elements. Vivaldi’s music is always headed somewhere, whereas Richter often seems to be running or sauntering in place.
While Glass doesn’t quote Vivaldi in his concerto — which was written as a concert companion piece for the Seasons —he establishes a perhaps surprising kinship with the Venetian Baroque composer while remaining totally his own man. In doing so, Glass shows how closely his motorized manner of writing for strings meshes with Vivaldi’s compositional technique. .
There are four movements — not identified with specific seasons — separated by three “songs” which serve as cadenzas of sorts for the soloist, prefaced by a prologue with a ghostly wind blowing over string trills. The “songs” are not very interesting in themselves; the first one is shadowed by what sounds like a halo of digital echo delay. Rather, it’s the four movements that provide the main interest, with Glass’s usual brooding lyrical bent, the trademark arpeggios, a few startling, energetic departures, and a coda that whizzes to a high-energy conclusion. Gara’s solo violin is given plenty to do throughout.
Hearing a Dolby Atmos-treated stream through headphones, the sound seems to float between the right and left channels on the opening track of the Richter piece. Over the span of the album, there was deeper, more pronounced bass — which may not be to everyone’s taste — and a bit more air when heard with Dolby Atmos than in plain hi-res stereo.
The album was recorded at The Soraya at Cal State Northridge — which also hosted live Delirium Musicum performances of Richter and Glass on May 10 and 11. Overall, the hall is proving to be a good venue for recording.