Let’s tackle the obvious question first: if a person already owns Recomposed, why might they want to purchase The New Four Seasons? The question is valid, the answer simple: they sound as different as two versions of the same work can be. Ten years ago, Max Richter unraveled Vivaldi’s work and stitched it back together, feeling that the original had “lost its impact through overexposure.” In doing so, he breathed new life into a classic. Yet after only ten years, Recomposed has begun to settle into the same fate, licensed to multiple media outlets, growing familiar to even peripheral listeners.
In contrast, The New Four Seasons sounds like now. This may seem like a curious statement, given that the album was recorded on period instruments (“gut strings”), which the performers had to learn: a Baroque touch that one would guess might make the music sound older. And yet, violinist Elena Uriotse and the majority Black and ethnically diverse Chineke! Orchestra treat The New Four Seasons as a contemporary work, adding energy, exuberance and a sense of fun. The other tonal change stems from Richter’s addition of “vintage” Moog synth, which again might have resulted in an older feel – the 1970s rather than the 1710s. Instead, the synths burst the seams of nostalgia, comfortably nestled in a new setting.
Perhaps a simpler way to explain the difference is that Recomposed sounds like classical music, while The New Four Seasons sounds more like modern composition ~ which indeed it is, despite its pedigree. This opens the possibility for the strangest of phenomena, a bona fide pop hit. “Spring 1” was the first single, but as the seasons change, “Summer 1” might serve the same purpose, due to its late surge; or “Summer 3,” due to its immediacy, the piece jumping in both both feet and never letting up. It’s worth noting that no piece is too long for a 45, and as on Recomposed, only two top the four-minute mark. Might Vivaldi end up blasting out of car speakers this summer? If young listeners suddenly decide they might like classical music after all, Richter will have succeeded.
The instant recognizability of “Winter 1” makes it seem as if the entire album has been building to this point, but each season has its highlight. The joy of The New Four Seasons is that even “Winter 1” sounds fresh and new, less a remake than an update, a song to herald the season of snow. Max Richter neither plays it safe nor savages the originals, producing a tribute that avoids both pitfalls. The subject of the mini-symphony is the passage of a year, even more so the passage of time. This conversation folds centuries like paper and brings new honor to each composer. (Richard Allen)