Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi, the Four Seasons
I was late to the party, but I’d already realized that the opening to the Netflix show A Chef’s Table featured Vivaldi, but it had been edited. As it turns out, the 2014 release of Max Richter’s album featuring violinist Daniel Hope was the material from which the television show gets its theme music.
Max Richter is a living composer; German born and currently he lives in England. His renown has something, likely, to do with the fact his music is released on the Deutsche Grammophon label. This edition of one of his Recomposed pieces features Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The performances and sound are good. But in this review I wanted to focus on the composition more so than the performance.
Spring is the iconic piece from the Four Seasons (maybe alongside the Winter I). But it’s in Richter’s Spring that we get the most re-composition (arrangement seems to unkind a word here, but more apt elsewhere). It’s almost as if he’s deconstructed it into a minimalist soup. And as unappetizing a soup that might seem, it’s quite well done. The iconic motives are maintained while introducing to us a whole new piece. It’s well played and I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to it. It’s preceded by a quiet opening movement but the extra seconds of one track are hardly worth noticing. The third movement, like the first, may be simple in concept but works well.
This one is next best; this one is more literal than Spring. The opening might as well be a version by, say, Nigel Kennedy. But once those descending fifth chords start, things change a bit; rhythmic accents shift, and so does the music, a beat stolen here, re-positioned over there. It’s subtle but the whole thing might be lost on someone not listening too closely.
The middle movement plays with the main solo theme but in an almost infantile way. I felt a “Spring” treatment might have been more apt.
I like the ending to Winter, Winter 3. The texture and rhythmic repetition are nice, as is the added bolstering of synthesizer in the bass. It’s similar, for sure to Vivaldi’s original, but it has been transformed into something, I dare say, more interesting.
This is my favorite Season by Vivaldi. The opening here is a re-hash of Vivaldi. After the re-working of Spring, it’s a shame this one is so literal. After almost a minute and a half in, however, things change. The solo violin comes in, just as it does with Vivaldi, but while this entry into the music is so familiar, the ending is different. It first comes apart with new accents then extensions of the preceding music. It’s almost reminiscent of Jenkins’ Diamond Music. A soaring, amplified violin rises above the busywork of the orchestra. It works musically, but it’s a shame that this violin part, previously so much more intricate, is demoted to something far less virtuosic. The movement ends much as Spring 1 did, in a wild crescendo. The string accompaniment in Summer 2 is similar to the sound we get in the muted strings of Winter 2; here, however, I think the effect is more promising and interesting. Passing the theme to the viola is a nice touch, but the potential for something beyond the repetition seems apropos.
The formulas already revealed come again in Autumn. First movement is very literal; the third devolves early into a repetitive collage of sounds which works, but now isn’t terribly inventive.
Max Richter writes approachable music. Much of what I’ve heard has been tonal, repetitive, and easy to listen to. It’s what makes his promotion on a major classical label a bit curious. I am not sure we need variations on Vivaldi; Vivaldi did a good job at that himself. But if we take this music as an extreme arrangement for modern times, it probably can work. That the musicians involved play so well is a real bonus.
Part of me wants to hate the concept, however. Within the Four Seasons there is more material to be unearthed, reworked, and put together in interesting ways, I’m sure. And as much as I feared this might be a one-listen disc, it’s been on repeat now for multiple days on my commute. I like listening to it.
If you get over how you’re supposed to think about it, you may enjoy it too.
The bonus set through Apple on iTunes includes remixed tracks with electronic instruments and two music videos featuring Spring I and Summer I.