INKPOT#49 CLASSICAL MUSIC REVIEWS: The Four Seasons – Earthbeat!
Antonio VIVALDI (1658-1741) The Four Seasons
Arranged by Viktoria Mushkatkol and Eric Lindert
with additional instruments of the world and the sounds of nature
Jerome Franke Karine Garibova Pasquale Laurino solo violins
Roza Borisova (cello), Olga Miliaeva (viola), the Quartet Dubuffet, Mike Hennessy (contra bass), Melanie Panush (hammered dulcimer), Stanislav Venglevski (bayan). Mike Kashou (tabla, tar, riqq), Daryl Stuermer (guitar), Ed Paloucek (celtic fiddle), Gary Bottoni (highland pipes)
+ additional synthesized “instrumentation”
Except Spring, sonnets not included.
EARTHBEAT! Records 9 42584-2
by Ren Chia
According to the CD back cover, this arrangement of the Four Seasons “[honours] the spirit and intent of these timeless concertos… [with] an exciting tribute to the creativity inspired by nature’s magnificence.” Considering Vivaldi’s (right) all-out efforts to enrich his audience’s impression of the music with paintings and the famous sonnets, this is almost like his dream come true.
Spring. The CD begins with the sounds of soft thunder, the pit-pat of rain and the chirping of birds. Over the hills and faraway, one can hear an accordion faintly in the distance, approaching the listener while playing the opening theme of Spring. Before long, the violins join in, still accompanied by tweeting birds and the faint murmurings of a little stream. The continuo is led by the hammered dulcimer (similar to a Chinese yngqn), its notes like fairies sprinkling the listener with magic dust – much more befitting the atmosphere as compared to an overpowering harp consort!
I like this version as it is the only one of Spring I (within my collection) which plays the opening melody in short, crisp notes, rather than the more usual draggy legato style. After all, the arrival of spring should be light and cheerful, not lethargic. The ensemble also provides a very happy, bubbling brook, using the sounds of a real one in the background.
Even as the thunder erupts, I imagine the violinists still playing in the rain, unaffected by the weather – showing the true meaning of music-making. (But their instruments are probably thinking otherwise.) The storm seems to pass over quickly, like those two-minute showers we sometimes get in Singapore nowadays. To get your mind off the weather, the arrangers introduce a fiddler playing a celtic jig, effectively joined to the Spring melody.
Just when you thought the first movement was over, the brook melody returns, smooth and calm. The birds continue to sing while accordion and violin introduce the sleeping shepherd, trying to catch forty winks in the hot and sticky weather. The mood of this rendition is (appropriately) tired and still like a drone. The violin and accordion tones seem to fuse, the former with its lazily sliding notes.
Through a thick haze of crickets, highland pipes begin a Scottish air which set the atmosphere for the “Country Dance”. The clever arrangement emphasises the folk rhythm and includes a simple percussion accompaniment, all which contribute to the dance. At the end of the central section, highland pipes play a melody of its own before adding its drone to the orchestra’s final notes.
Summer. The full-bodied strings suit the mood of the stifling Summer heat, thick with the hum of insects. After the introduction, there is a surprising prelude to the storm with the entrance of a tabla (percussion) accompaniment, setting a faster but steady pace to the music in anticipation of the storm. Somehow, this draws attention to the cello acompaniment where one is usually fixed on the violin representing the North Wind – Baroque music with a techno beat! The violin solo also depicts the shepherd’s feeble cries with sensitivity and empathy. If you are really engrossed in the music, when the winds come (they can actually be heard), you can almost feel the dust blowing in your face all the way from Arabia’s deserts.
The second movement is rather serene, and even the thunder is calm. In fact, the violence of the thunder seems to have been reserved just to lash at the poor shepherd. The final movement is a great tree-uprooting storm – a perfect weapon against filthy rich golfers! – with a very large and colourful group of varied percussion instruments pounding in the fields. This is exciting and great fun, ending with a tambourine shake and slap, and a final rumble of thunder. There is also a string of strange futuristic noises that I think Mulder would be interested in! The arrangement includes a “Summer Reprise” movement, repeating the first Summer movement, representing the heat of the season even as autumn approaches.
Autumn. Flights of migrating geese in the air add to the mood of approaching autumn. Among the geese there are some odd cries from what sounds like an eagle – mistook itself for a goose, perhaps! Autumn opens with a harvest celebration, involving the dulcimer, accordion, light percussion and strings, with many interesting melodic lines added, including frogs croaking. Sounds of insects and more geese bridge the break into the next movement. The very polite geese again make a passing remark that they are leaving before the hunt begins.
The sleeping country folk dream of the summer which has recently passed. This is arranged in “New Age” synthesizer style, with its wordless choir and reverberating acoustics. It’s a very good idea and the effect is like listening to the weaving of a hazy dream.
We are alerted to the beginning of the hunting season with the distant calls of hunting horns, obviously synthesized and sounding like car horns. Another good idea, but they might as well have used real horns. This movement is also very well played, but also the least “re-arranged” movement.
Winter. A cold wind blows through the icicles as synthesized chimetrees tinkle to represent the chilly winds, making the solo violin shiver. The scene is like some magical winter landscape, with the use of synthesized choir to replace orchestral strings. Suspended-cymbal rolls and cymbal crashes (probably synthesized) add to the buffetting winds.
The scene shifts indoors to the sound of softly hooing winds. There are clicks of doors being closed, as one sits down by a crackling fire. A quartet begins to play behind, starting the music slowly (perhaps they are being paid by the hour…). The “choir” again accompanies the violin, humming in the background. Happy memories of childhood and of playing on sleighs fill the music with the sound of jingling sleigh bells, giving that snowy Christmasy feel. The sleigh is even pulled along by pizzicato strings imitating the clip-clop of horses’ hooves.
The final movement of Winter uses the guitar to represent the breaking ice. This movement sounds particularly serious, but perhaps it is to make the following more welcome… Even before the winter winds subside, the call of spring tip-toes back into the scene. The birds and the accordion begin singing again to welcome the return of a new beginning. The orchestra contentedly revives the Spring melody, but without quite breaking into it in full. Slowly, the music fades away, making me want to start playing it all over again.
Overall, this arrangement is a great idea and very effective. Everything sounds very clear because the recording is, not surprisingly, cleaned up in the studio. The performers are faithful to the score but they certainly add a lot of stuff to it! There is much to discover which this review cannot possibly cover (including the cool Diablo font used in the CD sleeve). Even the decision to end the CD with the return of Spring is a much “happier” ending compared to the “conventional” Four Seasons. Considering that the original Four Seasons is scored for a small ensemble of strings, it is good that the arrangers have incorporated percussion. But it’s surprising that they did not touch any of the orchestral wind instruments. Perhaps this arrangement is the optimum mix of instruments and colours, and any more would be going overboard. Anyway, for once you can really dance to the Four Seasons, whether in a country village or in a night club!
This disc is available at or can be ordered from Borders (Wheelock Place).
123: 7.3.98. up.11.6.1999 Ren Teo