New Seasons: Glass, Pärt, Kancheli, Umebayashi

Performed by Gidon Kremer, Giedré Dirvanauskaite, Andrei Pushkarev, the Girls’ choir of the Vilnius Choir-singing School ‘Liepaites’ and the Kremerata Baltica

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COMPOSERS: Glass,Kancheli,Part,Umebayashi
LABELS: Deutsche Grammophon
ALBUM TITLE: New Seasons
WORKS: Glass, Pärt, Kancheli, Umebayashi
PERFORMER: Gidon Kremer (violin); Giedré Dirvanauskaite (cello), Andrei Pushkarev (keyboard); Girls’ choir of the Vilnius Choir-singing School ‘Liepaites’; Kremerata Baltica
CATALOGUE NO: DG 479 4817

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‘The American Four Seasons’ of Philip Glass’s Violin Concerto No. 2 for solo violin, strings and synthesizer were conceived in 2009 as a companion piece for Vivaldi’s own, though Glass later withdrew the titles, leaving it up to the listener to decide the time of year each movement represents. Indeed, he seems more engaged with an exploration of style here than any form of extramusical associations, making satisfying connections in the first movement between the motoric rhythms and continuo of Baroque music and his own trademark arpeggios and harpsichord-like synthesizers. Later, in the third movement, the counterpoint is imbued with Romanticism – a reminder of how Glass’s once stringent approach has matured over time. The four movements are interspersed with a prelude and three short ‘songs’ for solo violin, which bring further textural variety to the party, thrown with absolute conviction by Gidon Kremer.

With its pizzicato strings and pure voices of a girls’ choir, Arvo Pärt’s playful and perfectly formed Estonian Lullaby (2006) vanishes almost as quickly as it appears, cleansing the palette before the meditative reflections of Ex contrario (2006), written by that other ‘mystical minimalist’ and Kremer collaborator, Giya Kancheli. Kremerata Baltica and soloists embrace the extremes of his writing – from its eastern-sounding melismata for cello to brooding climaxes to sentimental strings – with compelling results: it has some astonishing moments.

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Less extraordinary, though lovely, is the In the Mood for Love theme by Japanese composer Shigeru Umebayashi; a favourite with TV producers of documentaries about the east, it seems to be everywhere right now. Nick Shave