Thanks to their popularity, Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons' have suffered some ignominious rewritings in recent times - recordings by Jacques Loussier and Max Richter spring to mind. This daft album featuring panpipe whizz Gheorghe Zamfir has to go on the same pile. Originally released in 2006, Romanian label Son Art should probably have left it in the back catalogue, but here it is once more, with its challenge: "If you thought you knew Vivaldi's 'Seasons', think again..."
The concerto arrangements by Lucian Moraru, violist and founder of Traffic
Strings - whose bizarre name was chosen to "denote [our] continuous
leaps performed in the music history" - all but eviscerate poor
Vivaldi, leaving an almost child-like version of the original, reduced
to melodic and textural basics. Zamfir's panpipe cannot do half,
nay a tenth, of what a violin is capable of - a fact which Zamfir at
least acknowledges in the notes - and the quintet parts offer no further
interest. It is true that Vivaldi liked to experiment with a variety
of solo instruments, but there is a good reason why he did not write
a concerto for this particular one.
Zamfir is the self-proclaimed "King of the Pan Flute", but though a virtuoso, his musicianship lacks the discipline and imagination for him ever to have had a career in art music. He is in fact more of an André Rieu of the pipes - a glamorous impresario, with a similar big following in certain parts of Europe, where he primarily mongers his inimitable brand of softcore pseudo-folk and easy listening or as his biography puts it, the music of "contemporary composers such John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel and Elton John."
The accompanying booklet notes are very funny, but not deliberately so. In part this is due to the shaky English employed ("According to the records, he would work in one capacity or another during several stretches of his life") and numerous typos ("such famous pieces as I Quattri
Stagioni"), but it is Zamfir himself who provides the golden moments of comedy. The section written by him, pop-culturally entitled 'The Making Of', is toe-curling, thanks to his unfailing sense of self-importance. "This is an absolute world premiere, in the sense that no other player of panpipes has had the courage to tackle this score", he writes. His message to the masses: "In the light of the 180 discs titles I have recorded so far, I have shown once again that panpipes are a complete and absolute instrument which deserves to be placed first on the great stage of world instrumental music. In fifty years of effort and tireless work on the panpipes I have won the greatest prizes and honors."
Audio quality is very good, but over-produced - the instruments sound amplified, especially the double bass. In sum, devourers of tuneful crossover or musical kitsch need not hesitate - bearing in mind the very short running-time - but in all other cases the best advice is, hark not
to the pipes of Pan.
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