Violinist's debut CD pairs an inspired Vivaldi knockoff with three 20th century solo bonbons

Francisco Fullana is, to my knowledge, the first violinist to record Max Richter’s ingenious Four Seasons Recomposed since the initial outing with Daniel Hope on Deutsche Gramophon (among my favorite recordings of 2012). In doing so Fullana not only offers an alternative reading, which is something we should want to have of all worthy compositions, but he also presents this inspired 21st century Vivaldi-knock-off in a new setting by interpolating the four concertos with three 20th century violin (solo and solo + piano) bonbons. 

To paraphrase my earlier review: No one needs a mock-original or likeness of the Four Seasons. Improving isn’t really possible, so something new must be created off the old substance – and that is exactly what Max Richter’s re-composition manages. Richter is a genre-defying British composer fond of employing electronic elements. He has composed ballets for the Royal Opera House as well as collections of ringtones. His Vivaldi-goes-clubbing approach works extraordinarily well and it works best in “Spring” and “Summer” where Richter opens whole new avenues and sightlines of beauty, calm and distant – dotted with moments of wicked otherness and clever minimalist loops. Richter didn’t just re-mix extant recordings into pseudo-hip newishness, as DG’s “Re-Composed” series has done before. Instead he created the piece from scratch, stripped Vivaldi bare, re-forged it, and wrote it out.

Daniel Hope helped it to great start but now Four Seasons Recomposed is getting a life beyond Hope. Fullana’s performance is very good and easily on par with Hope’s; slower than Hope in some key moments (which generally fits the atmosphere) and makes an ad-libitum (?) cut to the pulsating end of “Summer”. The Deutsche Grammophone recording renders the Berlin Konzerthaus Chamber Orchestra in an acoustic with more boom; more effectively bringing out the bass instruments while also affording the soloist a little more clarity. Fullana’s City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Carlos Iczaray lacks the last bit of punch and zip and enthusiasm one would wish an orchestra would bring to this work. You get a bit more of that from Berliners and because of the superior balance on that recording you hear a lot more of them, whereas the low strings of the CBSO sound strangely muted on the Orchid Classics recording. If it were just a matter of Richter’s Four Seasons Recomposed, Hope’s recording would remain top-dog on account of that, pending very specific personal interpretative preferences.

But the interspersed pieces represent a real bonus: Isang Yun’s Königliches Thema for solo violin on Bach’s “Thema Regium” from his Musical Offering is a fascinating set of variations that takes you, hardly noticeable, on an East/West journey without borders or boom barriers. I had last come across Alfred Schnittke’s Suite in the Old Style for violin and piano when reviewing his film music for “Adventures of a Dentist” and I fall in love with the work every time. Perfectly indicative of Schnittke’s polystylism with its many baroque and classical quotes, Handel and Bach are its subjects. It also reminds of Grieg’s Holberg Suite, but with that ‘melting-sideways’ edge of Schnittke’s. Fullana performs it here with pianist David Fung. The last work ‘between movements’ is by Salvador Brotons, a friend of the performer’s, who does in Variations on a Baroque Theme (a helpfully obscure theme by Mallorcan composer Antoni Lliteres) exactly what you would expect, given the title and its inclusion on this recital. Very charming stuff.

If that sounds intriguing, grab the release… especially if you don’t have the Richter Four Seasons yet. Excellent – certainly very extensive – liner notes about the works are another plus.

Jens F. Laurson writes about classical music and has contributed to "Surprised by Beauty - A Listener's Guide to the Recovery of Modern Music". You can follow him on Twitter @ClassicalCritic.

Jens F. Laurson, Forbes
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