The five string quartets

The five string quartets

Music CD - 2014
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Publisher: [New York, NY] : Sony ClassicalTM, [2014]
Copyright Date: ℗2014
Branch Call Number: 785.7194 CARTE
Characteristics: 2 audio discs (2:16:35) ; 4 3/4 in. + 1 booklet
digital, optical, rda
audio file, CD audio, rda
Additional Contributors: Juilliard String Quartet - Performer

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scribby
Sep 08, 2017

It begins with an loud, angular declamation from the cello (with a single viola note) and proceeds from there. Unlike some composers who clothe their modernism in lush orchestration (Boulez) or tranquility derived from silence (Cage) or pounding aggression (Xenakis), this is the unvarnished stuff. It’s stark. It’s austere. It is recorded without a whiff of reverb. It is not music of angst, as some would have such “modern” music to be; rather, maybe it expresses little emotion at all. It’s pure mathematics. As a listener, unraveling the complicated formulae that govern the melodic lines and the rhythms is exhausting, maybe impossible – and ultimately extremely rewarding; an intellectual exercise that leads finally to understanding. With that understanding comes the realization that much of what I have just said (stark, austere, non-emotional) is actually not true at all…! There are richly contrasting moments, such as the slow quiet music in the First Quartet that keeps getting overlaid with louder, faster variations on the same sequences. There’s that final quasi-resolve of the Pulitzer-Prize winning Third Quartet (so complex that the liner notes list what’s happening in which speaker on your stereo!) where everything comes together in dissonant but final triple-stops. There are the occasional excursions into pizzicato textures. And above all, there are the rhythms – incomprehensible at first hearing, later resolving into obvious meters – some of them actually groove as they morph and mutate and crosshatch one another. Yes, it’s complicated. Yes, it’s difficult. Yes, it’s far more beautiful than you’d think at first. Give this a listen, and once you’re past the initial trepidation, don’t complain to me that you’re hooked.

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