Les Eclairs de Musique - Les Saisons Amusantes
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Les Eclairs de Musique
Les Saisons Amusantes (Paris-Versailles 1739)
6 Concertos from “The Four Seasons” and other works from Antonio Vivaldi
Arranged by Nicolas Chédeville
Arts Music 47669-8

To grasp the transformation of Antonio Vivaldi's six Opus 8 concerti by the French composer and musician Nicolas Chédeville, the best reference is to the paintings of Antoine Watteau, whose lyrical depictions of rural enjoyments typify the romanticized version of peasant life that was fashionable among the French aristocracy of the time. While Vivaldi's music is instantly recognizable in these arrangements for chamber orchestra and hurdy-gurdy, much of the tension and drama found in the original Vivaldi scores has been ironed out. The hurdy-gurdy was one of those instruments that was immediately recognizable for its role in rustic dance music. However, this is not to say that the hurdy-gurdy is only capable of crude folkloric melody making. On the contrary, this music incorporates the tremendous skill and knowledge of a court musician of Versaille to render the rustic sounds fit for the ears of a king, just as Watteau's formidable academic training allowed him to bring life to his scenes of gaiety and carefree abandon.

It would be hard in this overly-specialized era to find a musician up to the task of marrying highly-developed musical sensitivities and light, rustic pastoral themes to produce a glorious rococo sonic image of edenic country living. However, in Matthias Loibner's hands the hurdy-gurdy takes its place amongst the recorder, baroque violin and harpsichord to create a soundscape of pure joy. The rhythm, magnified by the buzzing “dog” string, is crisp and precise, bringing definition to the forms of the concerti. The melodies of the hurdy-gurdy parts sometimes blend with the rest of the strings and sometimes intertwine gracefully with the recorder, played by the talented Chiara de Ziller.

While Loibner has a good feeling for the ornamented style of 18th century music and betrays considerable study of early music, he never lets the music become dry or academic. The same joy that comes across in his more folkloric explorations of hurdy-gurdy repertoire comes through in the Chédeville/Vivaldi pieces. Likewise his colleagues on the album play with considerable élan. The ensemble work is tight and highly musical.

Vivaldi purists might object to this French treatment of the Venetian master's oeuvre, but their gripe cannot be with Loibner and his cohorts, rather with the acceptable practices of mid 18th century France: these sort of transcriptions and adaptations were expected of court musicians, so long as they were done within accepted norms and limits (which, according to the awkwardly-translated liner notes, were occasionally violated by Chédeville in other works).

What makes these sorts of transcriptions interesting is that they reversed the more familiar mode of an art composer borrowing folkloric material and polishing it for the concert hall (e.g. Beethoven, Brahms, Liszt, Bartok, etc.), in that they took complex, ornate works by established composers of art music and gave them a rustication in keeping with the aesthetics of the time. Imagine a composer taking a Beethoven symphony and arranging it for the Budapest Symphony Orchestra with Taraf de Haiduks as guest artists. If the listener is one to keep an authenticity scorecard, all hope is lost, but if the listener simply wants to enjoy a quirky and joyful performance of pieces that have been dulled by saturation, this album is a keeper. - Erik Keilholtz

This CD available from Amazon.com
Other recordings by Mattias Loibner are available from cdRoots

Other recordings in this review series:
Les maîtres de la vielle baroque - French Music for Hurdy-Gurdy
Matthias Loibner: Vielle à roué
Tunji Beier and Matthias Loibner: Zykado
Nataŝa Mirković – De Ro and Matthias Loibner: Ajvar & Sterz

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