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Anna Meredith - Anno Music Album Reviews

We hear the avant-garde composer’s antic voice here and there on her interpretation of Vivaldi’s masterpiece. If it’s not a mind meld, it’s at least as fun as a Face Swap filter on Instagram.

“The Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi have been balled up, stretched, flattened. They have been remixed, rewritten, “reimagined,” deconstructed: Whatever interpretive violence can be done to a piece of music has been visited upon these four drearily familiar little concerti composed in the 18th century. The same way that hip new restaurants tee up to offer their spin on the hamburger, modern composers will turn to “The Four Seasons” to demonstrate the extent of their daring on its blank canvas. Max Richter loosened the timing belt on the piece’s engine, so that the fluttering strings fell out of sync, calling to each other over distances like lost birds. Now Anna Meredith—whose most famous composition sounds like the “Ride of the Valkyries” as reenacted by an arcade machine—swaggers up to these broken, chipped-up monuments to see what she can do.

The weirdest thing about Anna Meredith’s spin on “The Four Seasons” is that, at least at first, there doesn’t appear to be much of one. Her collaboration with the Scottish Ensemble begins pretty reverently: The harpsichord on “Spring” is genteel enough, and the string playing idiomatic enough to make you forget you’re not listening to a local daytime classical station. Only at the edges does Anna Meredith practice mischief—at the very end, “Spring” melts into cawing birds, fluttering wings.

Meredith’s antic voice comes out in these interstitial bursts. She cherry-picks moments from each of the four concerti and weaves them together with her own additions, which separate the movements. These pieces do all kinds of interesting little things—smudge the borders between movements, offer ambivalent shades of feeling, comment on the themes themselves. What they don’t do much of, really, is show us what Meredith is drawn to in this classical-music chestnut in the first place. They seem like bedfellows of convenience, or commission, rather than like minds of any sort. Meredith’s music is caffeinated, anxious, exultant—in a word, urban. She tends to luxuriate in feelings of dark panic, of clamminess. Hearing her descend on these pastoral themes like some mechanized swarm of bees is fun, in a vandalizing sort of way, but some of these the pieces aren’t in conversation with Vivaldi so much as they hock spitballs at him. The burbling keys of “Autumn” crash into the end of “Summer” like a Stereolab album that has poked its head into the wrong meeting.

Her muted material casts longer, more unsettling shadows. “Low Light ,” one of two elaborations on Winter, sounds a little like “Dowager,” a lovely chamber-pop highlight from her 2016 album Varmints. It’s a reminder that although many institutions have turned to Meredith to give them kinetic, exciting commissions, she can also summon vast reserves of feeling. On her addition to “Summer,” which she titles “Haze,” she draws out long-limbed, sinuous melody lines, which sound like the evaporating fumes of the movement itself. As the harmony darkens, bringing some hints of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings (another chestnut from classical’s unofficial Top 40) with it, wisps of keyboard smear the digital/analog border. This little zone feels like a fertile clearing—not quite belonging to Meredith, but bearing her marks; not quite Vivaldi, though haunted by his melodies. If it’s not a mind meld, it’s at least as fun as a Face Swap filter on Instagram.

Anno might have worked better, or engaged more fully, on stage, where it was accompanied by lights, by projected images, by surround electronics. Live, it landed in that bright, attractive zone between performance and installation, the kind that that tends to attract young audiences and win press. On record, however, it feels less consequential—intermittently fun, occasionally pretty, slightly surprising. The larger problem isn’t so much with Meredith or Vivaldi as the question of why they were ever in the same room in the first place. Without a larger sense of comity, the kind that tends to unite jazz musicians with Stravinsky, or techno producers with Steve Reich, Anno has the feel of a speed-dating workshop. You can’t deny anyone’s enthusiasm or ingenuity in the venture. But, looking at the results, you can’t help but wonder if everyone’s energy was best spent elsewhere.

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