Earthcycle

Read Earthcycle Reviews

MICHAEL QUINN, SONGLINES

This third ‘mixtape album’ from Orchestra of the Swan continues the classical ensemble’s adventures into bending and breaking genre boundaries. Earthcycle’s predecessors nudged the top of the US Billboard chart and quickly gained traction on streaming services. Spliced together here are traditional folk songs, jazz influences and one of classical music’s most familiar masterpieces, Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. Despite its antiquity – it was composed in 1723 – it provides an apt spine for a programme preoccupied by current environmental issues. In David Gordon’s lithe, gently jazz-laced arrangement, the Baroque juggernaut is a thing of wonder and vitality, the orchestra’s David Le Page a fizzing violin lead, with Gordon shifting between piano and harpsichord dextrously. Ensemble strings and percussion also rise to the occasion, flexing their muscle to produce images alive with onomatopoeic sounds of nature. It’s impossible not to shiver during Gordon’s duet with Le Page on his own ‘Feeling the Chill’. Former BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards-winner Jackie Oates adds English pastoralism to the equation, rustic and robust on ‘Bright Phoebus’, buoyant and spry on ‘The Lark in the Morning’, exquisitely poetic on the affecting ‘The Robin’s Petition’. Disparate though the various elements are, they are perfectly integrated. Superb recorded sound repays listening on headphones with ravishing detail. The curious won’t be disappointed.

ANNE TEMPLER, BBC CLASSICAL MUSIC

The Orchestra of the Swan’s musical director David Le Page says of this album that it is a ‘timely project which finds a compelling way to engage with Humanity’s most urgent threat (climate change)… Earthcycle contemplates our impact with Earth’s environment and the disruption of its natural rhythms…’

Thus, the backbone of this recording is set out, with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons as ‘a perpetually engaging jumping off point for creative projects’ – 300 years after it was written, performed in its entirety, and interspersed with traditional tunes sung by Jackie Oates and pieces composed by keyboardist David Gordon.

It is these nuggets of brightness and originality that lift the recording above yet another exploration of Vivaldi’s most famous composition, and the new pieces and arrangements add a particular vitality, which feels firmly rooted in the British Isles. Outstanding pieces are ones that bring out the versatile qualities of all the musicians, exemplified by David Gordon’s The Elephant and the Moth beginning intriguingly, but spilling over with charm when the pizzicato strings enter with the harpsichord.

Outstanding extemporisation from David Le Page on violin playfully swoops and falls and the piano solo, with walking bass and lush string chords, warms the soul. Jackie Oates’s voice towards the end startles with jazz timbres, fulsome chords in the strings, ending in a percussive, ambiguous spoken word. Later, a cheerful performance of The Bright Phoebus – arranged by Jackie Oates and Le Page – shows a remarkably unpretentious presentation of this folk tune. Its wassail-like qualities leave a smile on the face and it is a lovely example of the clear honesty of this project – refreshing in spirit and performance.

FRANCES WILSON, ART MUSE LONDON

An innovative and timely project from ever-inventive Orchestra of the Swan, Earthcycle finds a compelling way to engage with the threat of climate change, and the human impact on the Earth’s environment and the disruption of its natural rhythms through music inspired by or evoking the natural world, the most obvious piece being Vivaldi’s evergreen Four Seasons, which celebrates its 300th anniversary in 2023.

Earthcycle is a major multi-media project encompassing specially shot contextual film, bespoke lighting and sound design, podcasts with leading commentators and environmentalists including George Monbiot, ‘Nurture Nature’ videos aimed at schoolchildren, and live performances.

In the liner notes to the album, violinist and Artistic Director David Le Page describes a freak weather incident in the Lincolnshire village where he lives which led to a broader reflection on climate change and a major inspiration for the Earthcycle project.

“The little stream at the bottom of my garden swelled from a benign trickle to a meter’s depth torrent which caused nearby houses and roads to flood. I wondered if this was just a freak weather event or a more ominous sign of disturbing changes in our climate.” David Le Page
To mark the tricentenary of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons they have commissioned a new version from their Associate Artist, baroque/jazz musician and composer David Gordon. The work is a continually engaging jumping off point for composers and musicians, and remains perennially popular with audiences.

“The idea of combining a universal and consistently captivating theme with some of the most memorable and enduring music ever written was indeed a stroke of unwitting genius; I’m not sure Vivaldi could have guessed that three centuries later these four concerti would be more popular than ever.” David Le Page

The Four Seasons is imaginatively interspersed with traditional folk songs relating to the theme of nature and the seasons which both complement and contrast with Vivaldi’s concerti. They are performed by folk singer Jackie Oates, who possesses a wonderfully expressive, clear voice. David Gordon’s pieces Windigo, The Moth and the Elephant, Feeling the Chill and Winter’s Tears reveal his remarkably versatile and imaginative composing style, with hints of jazz and folk idioms interwoven with more familiar classical structures and harmonies.

The opening movement of Vivaldi’s ‘Spring’ is vibrant and uplifting, with a freshness of gesture and sound as bright as sunshine after an April shower, Le Page’s seamless violin sound brilliantly lifting the music off the score. The entire album is replete with musical birdsong, rain showers, shafts of light, gusty autumn winds, swirling leaves, and many other delights, which create a compelling, engaging and intriguing whole.
Earthcycle provides an important reflection on climate change while offering listeners chamber music of the highest order, imaginatively presented and beautifully performed.

Earthcycle is released on CD and streaming on 19 January 2024 on the Signum Classics label.