Max Richter’s Update to ‘Four Seasons’ at Le Poisson Rouge

The main stage of (le) Poisson Rouge.
The main stage of (le) Poisson Rouge. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The composer Max Richter wanted to “recompose” Vivaldi’s ubiquitous “Four Seasons,” a masterpiece all too often demoted to musical wallpaper. In a recent interview with NPR he said that he initially loved the work, but it began to grate because of its elevator-music status; “the record and the project are trying to reclaim the piece, to fall in love with it again.” At Le Poisson Rouge on Thursday, Tito Muñoz conducted Ensemble LPR, the space’s new resident group, and the violinist Daniel Hope, in the second of two performances. Mr. Richter’s re-creation, scored for electronics and ensemble including harpsichord, reflects many of his influences, which range from Baroque composers like Purcell to electronica, dance music and punk.

Umbrella Music Through January 10

From Chicago’s Umbrella Music:

Dec 26
DKV Trio
The Hideout

Dec 27
DKV Trio
The Hideout

Dec 27
Russ Johnson Quartet featuring Jon Irabagon

Dec 30
SET I: Tres Hongos
SET II: John Dikeman Chicago Saxophone Group
Hungry Brain

Jan 02
Tres Hongos with Peter Hanson
The Hideout

Jan 06
Mazzarella/Herndon Duo
Hungry Brain

Jan 09
SET I: Nate McBride
SET II: Bootstrap
The Hideout

Jan 10
SET I: Rempis/Kessler Duo
SET II: Williams/Reed Duo Elastic

AMN Reviews: Arvo Pärt – Adam´s Lament (ECM New Series); Jocelyn Pook – Desh (Pook Music)

Holy minimalist and holy hedonist.

With “Tabula Rasa” (1984) and “Arbos” three years later, Arvo Pärt (b. 1935) freed himself from the Soviet conservatory influence that made him so dissatisfied with his early work – he had already freed himself from the Soviet Union itself by stealthily emigrating in 1980 – and became a smash hit throughout the West in the process. There is perhaps no living composer so beloved by his audience; his so-called “holy minimalism” so impressed ECM that it launched its New Series just for him, and new music by Pärt appears exclusively on that imprint.

“Adam´s Lament” does not waver from the path of Eastern Church influenced choral music and the tintinnabulist compositional technique with which he has become so closely identified. The pieces are performed in various combinations by an Estonian choir and orchestra, the Latvian Radio Choir and Sinfonietta Riga, all under the direction of Tönu Kaljuste. From the unheeded plea of “Adam´s Lament” – the “total Adam”, Pärt explains, thousands of years of suffering mankind – to what he characterizes as a sonic funnel, “large circles, slowly turning and becoming more and more concentrated and grave until it reaches the deepest point” in praise of the Virgin Mary, and the seasonally timely and immediately timeless “Christmas Lullaby”, Pärt´s collection heads straight for the heart, after which it takes up long-term residence in the mind.

Jocelyn Pook (b. 1960) has written a lot for dance, that most sinful of the lively arts, but it was the movies that gave her her big international break. The album “Flood” contained several pieces chosen by Stanley Kubrick for his “Eyes Wide Shut”, including the esbat of “Backwards Priests”, used to soundtrack the choreographed masked ball orgy. With “Desh”, she launches her own eponymous imprint. “Desh” (Bengali for “homeland”) is a dance piece by Akram Khan, the English choreographer´s attempt to understand his parents’ country by weaving its texture and history into those of other cultures affecting him. It might just be a dance counterpart to Salman Rushdie´s magic-realist whack at Pakistani history in “Midnight´s Children”.

Whereas Pärt´s choral works, with texts covering millennia and sung in many languages, are inspired by the liturgies of a single faith, Pook is a humanist who enthusiastically filches rituals and histories from multiple cultures and traditions. Both albums feature a hallelujah. Pärt´s is utterly weightless voices borne on a phalanx of cellos, while Pook´s opens with cantorial Hebrew joined by frequent collaborator Melanie Pappenheim and Macedonian singer Tanja Tzarovska, turning round and round with a small string ensemble and becoming increasingly concentrated, like in Pärt´s funnel.

With a base of field recordings captured in Dhaka, “Desh” features a Bulgarian orchestra, the five-stringed Bangladeshi dotara, cellist Sophie Harris, Pook´s own violin, viola and piano, metal shop percussion by Dragan Aleksic, and eight vocalists. Perhaps the most impressive evidence of the ease with which she fuses impulses is her “Ave Maria”, co-written and -sung by Natacha Atlas to a soaring string accompaniment and featuring a sampled Persian song. Whipping up a street whirlwind, she swings best when Labik Kamal lets loose on his dotara and Leesa Gazi spits “Remembering Noor” from the eye of a seething crowd. But her true forte are the elegant, deceptively simple pieces for just voice and strings. Pook exercises perfect control over her many, exotic elements, making “Desh” is a melismatic mosaic.

These new albums by Pärt and Pook should no doubt both bring a hush to the same hearts.

Stephen Fruitman