Kagel: String Quartet No. 4; Keuris: String Quartet No. 1 (2009) by Lagos Ensemble

Categories: 1963, 1993, and 2009.

This disc collects Kagel’s final quartet and the first quartet by Tristan Keuris, a Dutch composer I have never hear of before. The works were composed 30 years apart. Kagel’s fourth and final quartet is similar to his third in that it contains more radical elements, but these elements are incorporated into more traditional and recognizable forms (even if the quartet is two movements of 8 or so passages each, which is very much not traditional). It’s perhaps the most conservative of his string quartets, but don’t let that trick you into thinking this is a particularly conservative piece of Read More

Intimate Letters (1996) by the Juilliard String Quartet

Categories: 1923, 1926, 1928, 1996, and Music.

This disc compiles both of Janacek’s string quartets with Berg’s “Lyric Suite”, a six part quartet. It is named after the second of Janacek’s quartets. Not named after the Beethoven piece but rather the Tolstoy story inspired by that Beethoven piece, Janacek’s first quartet is perhaps my favourite of all of his music that I’ve heard. It’s got compelling melodies but risky flirtations with the more avant garde music of his contemporaries; it manages to sound both traditional and brave at times throughout, and that’s something I always appreciate. The second quartet gets off to a very different start than Read More

String Quartets Op. 33 ‘Russian’ (2012) by the London Haydn Quartet

Categories: 2012 and Music.

Though these quartets were written after the great “Sun” quartets (perhaps because they were written after) I like them a lot better initially. They sound a lot more like my idea of what a High Classical quartet should sound like. Though their forebears were undoutedbly the more innovative and revolutionary set, these are the more appealing, perhaps because they don’t sound so old. Perhaps with these, more than any other set, you can hear why he is the Father of the String Quartet. The individual instruments are all distinguishable, they all their important parts to play and, of course, they Read More

Joseph Haydn: String Quartets Op. 20 ‘Sun’ (2011) by the London Haydn Quartet

Categories: 2011 and Music.

As with his symphonies and some of his other works, Haydn wrote a ton of String Quartets. Just an absolute ton. This set collects the 23rd through 28th, all of which were written at the same time, as one cycle or collection. They are considered by most people to be the birth of the modern String Quartet and wikipedia tells me that the form established here didn’t really change for 200 years, which is insane. I am a sucker for String Quartets and I can’t say that I’ve heard any earlier than these in my life. So earlier Quartets would Read More

Joseph Haydn: Die Sieben letzten Worte (2014) by Cuarteto Casals

Categories: 2014 and Music.

This is supposedly an “instrumental” oratorio. Haydn first wrote it for orchestra (with no vocals!). Then he adapted it for String Quartet. Then he adapted it for Choir (as if it was an actual oratorio). Then he “approved” an adaptation for solo piano, but apparently didn’t write that one himself. This is the String Quartet version, obviously. It is considered the most popular version of the piece, which I guess makes me okay with listening to it over the orchestral original. I am a sucker for String Quartets and Haydn is the Father of them. (He didn’t invent them, but Read More

Gould; MacMillan (2008) by Quatuor Alcan

Categories: 1921, 1930, 1956, 2008, and Music.

This is a decent compilation of Canadian string quartets from the 20th century. As I have said elsewhere, I like the Gould quartet though I feel like I should be a little less enthusiastic about it. The MacMillan pieces are fine, but they are typical of most if not all Canadian “classical” music I have heard – it’s obvious that the only reason they are played by anyone is that Canadians are patriotic. Nothing about MacMillan’s pieces would probably be notable if he were British or American, I suspect. Enjoyable, but nothing special. 7/10 Read More

String Quartet; So You Want to Right a Fugue; Shostakovitch; Poulenc (1997 Compilation)

Categories: 1997 and Music.

I really like Gould’s quartet. I know it’s not the most forward-thinking piece for the time, but I think it’s among the second tier of its era and I really don’t mind listening to it. The fugue-song thing is a different story: I like it but it’s almost too clever. I like that it seems deliberately aimed at the establishment, but it’s still a minor goof of a piece. The rest of the disk is unfortunately fleshed out by excerpts of two nice pieces – a quintet by Shostakovitch and a kind of concerto thing by Poulenc. They feel reasonably Read More

Complete String Quartets (2008) by Philip Glass, performed by the Smith Quartet

Categories: 2008 and Music.

First off, this is no longer ‘complete’ if it ever really was – Glass has apparently written a 6th quartet. (Also, there are other pieces he has written for string quartet that do not appear here, but they are not numbered among his string quartets, apparently.) Glass’ first quartet is a really great piece of music, in part because it doesn’t sound so Glassian as almost all of the rest of his music does. My guess is this was written so early in his development that he had failed to fully establish his style. And normally one might assume that Read More

Franck: String Quartet; Violin Sonata (1978, 1995, 2006) by Fitzwilliam Quartet; Pierre Amoyal, Pascal Roge

Categories: 1886, 1890, 1978, 1980, 1995, 2006, and Music.

I am a sucker for a good string quartet and I like to think that this is a very good string quartet. It’s certainly interesting for its era and, though not as ballsy as so many of the great quartets of the early 20th century, I think it would probably bear comparison with other notable quartets of the late 19th century, especially those by composers more established in chamber music. (It seems Franck did not compose a lot of it.) I am, as always, perplexed by the selection – the piano quintet would make more sense next to the quartet, Read More

Richter 858 (2005) by Bill Frisell

Categories: 2005 and Music.

This is an excellent set of compositions – inspired by painting – that show off Frisell’s abilities as a composer who can handle all sorts of instrumental ensembles. His writing for string quartet here and elsewhere merits serious consideration, I think, not in the least because of the room the musicians are given to go off-script. This was so successful that he wrote another set of pieces for this same group, which I actually like even more than this. But in addition to this music being great, it is also nice to hear and experience the inspiration for one of Read More

Sign of Life (2011) by Bill Frisell’s 858 Quartet

Categories: 2011 and Music.

This is one of those albums that convinces me Frisell is more than just a guitarist. This album, for me, is much more about his compositional abilities. To call it jazz is probably a bit of a misnomer. Rather it exists in that undefined space that has come to exist between jazz and “classical” ever since “classical” composers started writing pieces which incorporating improvisation – or sounds derived from improvisation – and jazz musicians started trying to write out everyone’s parts ahead of time. This is music that draws knowledge from American folk, Romantic and modernist string quartets, and many Read More

Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis et al. (1986) by Orford Quartet, CBC Vancouver Orchestra, Simon Street

Categories: 1986 and Music.

This is one of those nonsensical compilations of pieces of “classical” music that are put together because all the music is performed by a similar ensemble, in this case String Quartet with Orchestra. So you have two very late romantic British composers (though Vaughan Williams music could be seen as something else, I guess) with two Canadian composers who don’t exactly fit. Only Canadian ensembles would so this. I’m sure I’ve heard the “Fantasia” before but it still stirs me. It is one of the most magnificent things to come out of English high art music in the years of Read More

Piano Quintent; String Quartet by Edward Elgar (2011) performed by Goldern Quartet, Piers Lane

Categories: 2011 and Music.

This is an odd combination: we get a string quartet, piano pieces seemingly picked at random from two separate eras of his career, and the piano quintet. I guess they wanted to give us our money’s worth or something. The string quartet is good, but it’s hardly on the level of Bartok. In fact, I’d say it’s pretty good, but it’s not quite one of the great quartets of its era. The problem is the piano pieces, which feel totally out of place with all of this. In and of themselves they are fine but if they had to pick Read More

Debussy / Dutilleux / Ravel: String Quartets (2001) by Belcea Quartet

Categories: 1893, 1903, 1977, 2001, and Music.

The Debussy quartet is phenomenal. The more I here of his music the more I think he is incredibly underrated, even though he is still acknowledged as a trail-blazer. It’s just one of those things that you’re like “wow, I can’t believe somebody wrote this, let alone in 1893”. The Dutilleux quartet should therefore make no sense pared with the other two. But for some reason it really does sound to me like it “came from” Debussy’s, I can’t really articulate why except to say that it feels natural. The first time I listened I had to double check the Read More

Elliott Carter: The Four String Quartets by the Julliard Quartet (Sony Classical 1991)

Categories: 1991 and Music.

The first quartet has to be considered one of the great mid century masterpieces in so-called high art music. It is an astounding combination of forwarding thinking and lyricism. The second is also pretty spectacular. The third is a revelation as it seems like finally a composer was listening to free jazz! I am less impressed by the fourth, which sort of feels like three take 2. The piano / violin duo is initially less obviously awesome than the quartets but it is actually rewarding as well. An absolutely essential piece of “modern” music. Amazing. 10/10 Read More