By Cristina Schreil

The Four Seasons have apparently seen some climate change.

When violinist Nigel Kennedy recorded the concertos with the English Chamber Orchestra in 1989, the commercial hit became for many a staple recording. Sparkling and vivacious, it also presented “every technique” Kennedy knew, foregrounding intriguing elements such as harmonics.

Released October 30, Vivaldi: The New Four Seasons, keeps that spirit at the core. But, the concertos get the 21st-century treatment. Joining Vivaldi’s narrative journey are several contemporary sounds. Kennedy plays with his Orchestra of Life, comprised of young musicians, drum programming by Massive Attack’s Damon Reece and a vocal quartet. Kennedy doesn’t snag as much of the spotlight, but exudes the same pleasing vitality.

There are 21 movements, with Vivaldi’s three-movements-per-concerto structure reworked. Kennedy added enchanting “transitoire” movements throughout; they are curious and atmospheric. The one capping off the album dissolves sweetly.

The overlaid contemporary textures don’t always blend perfectly, as in a precisely edited mashup. It’s more of a tradeoff, wherein modern elements interrupt, then recede. This can be jarring. In “Summer: 10 His Fears Are Only Too True,” a grating electronic buzz and deliberate chants roar amid a splendid rendition of the concerto’s Presto. It’s as if the Matrix is glitching. The approach may be polarizing; traditionalists may wonder at the point.

The album still stems, however, from Vivaldi at its core. It grabs hold of and amplifies the suite’s imaginative spirit. Spring’s rock-laced first movement—renamed “1 Melodious Incantation”—features actual bird chirps and a woman calling, “Tweet, tweet.” In the peppy and exuberant “Spring: 5 Nymphs and Shepherds Dance,” human voices bark, yelp, and hiss as if animals roused from winter lethargy. In a spin on the Summer concerto’s Adagio, haunting vocalists chant suddenly. An electric cacophony almost plucked from a pagan rock festival accompanies.

Particularly wonderful is the reimagined Allegro of the Autumn concerto. A jazzy trumpet melody and hip-swinging percussion kick off as the orchestra unleashes Vivaldi’s notes with revitalizing speed. It’s a rich blend. Kennedy’s solo is brisk and boisterous. And the Winter concerto, now in six movements, is layered and dramatic. As a wintry mix famously pelts down, Kennedy’s lyrical solo summons up the warm fingers of a fire.

In releasing the album, Kennedy insisted that forward-thinking Vivaldi would have loved to compose with today’s resources. No one’s to say for sure, but it’s an absorbing listen nonetheless.


Nigel Kennedy New Four Seasons

Vivaldi: The New Four Seasons, Nigel Kennedy, (Sony Masterworks)

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