Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mini-Post Mini-Series Part 2: Quartet Mini-Reviews #1

Quartet Mini-Reviews #1
(...or, what I've heard so far)

* Phillip Glass - String Quartet No. 5 (1991): I absolutely love this work! It was so much fun to listen to. It surprised me with how non-"minimalist" it is. Repeating, evolving patterns and shifting, mediant-related triadic harmonies are present, but this work really transcends mere patterning through solid orchestration and careful balance of repetition and variety.
($6.40 used on Amazon)
(Note: See Mini-Self-Revelation #3, above, for a related idea.)

* Ellsworth Milburn - String Quartet No. 2 (1988): Tightly-packed dissonances plane up and down through intense, driving sixteenth notes. Sixteen continuous minutes of muscular lines, rich textures, and baffling interlocking rhythms will leave you out of breath, even if you're not the one playing.
($4.20 used on Amazon)

* Ellsworth Milburn - String Quartet No. 1 (1974): Like an electronica piece transcribed for acoustic performance, this work successfully exploits the dramatic potential of extended techniques. The sul pont., behind the bridge, and tremolo bowings add up to so much more than weird sounds for weird sounds' sake. The music squeaks, squaks, whispers, and shouts with the best of them.

(Note: I was so floored by these Milburn quartets that I wanted to write to the composer. Sadly, he passed away May 3, 2007.)

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* Julia Wolfe - Four Marys (1991): Also makes great use of propulsive rhythms and tangy dissonances. Wolfe is less extreme in these regards than the Milburn quartets, making her work less immediately impressive yet more sensitive and contemplative.

* Nikolai Myaskovsky - String Quartet No. 2 (1930): On recommendation from a friend, I threw this one into the mix. It's a really great model, I think, for what I was looking for at the time - use of a definable, singable, beautiful melody that doesn't overwhelm the other elements in terms of phrasing and pacing. I enjoyed each movement a little more than the last. Only 12 more to listen to!

* Jan Radzinski - String Quartet (1978): A nervous, unified ensemble sound blasts out modern dissonant heterophony. On the music/noise spectrum, this one is a few clicks toward the "noise" end, but again, it's not noise for its own sake. The heterophony gives the impression of a single musical unit struggling to form a unified gesture despite the overwhelming number of potential directions each moment could take.

* Daniel Godfrey - Intermedio (1986): It seems very well constructed, with imaginative harmonies and clear musical gestures. Less impressive than some, but of course the fast and flashy will always win my attention when washing dishes or riding on the Metro. Certainly worth another listen.

* Bruce Adolphe - String Quartet No. 2 "Turning, Returning" (1991): After enjoying his NPR Piano Puzzler for months, I was looking forward to Adolphe's two quartets. The experience was very pleasant, as he really knows how to marry traditional phrasing with unexpected elements to reach a diverse audience. I'm looking forward to his first quartet.

* Allen Anderson - String Quartet (1990): Conceived and laid out quite well. I didn't hear much new to report on in my single listening, but I also didn't hear the rest of his CD.

Still on the list: more Glass, more Myaskovsky, more Adolphe, Davidson, Waggoner, Hovda, Bresnick, Brouwer, Thorne, Mamlok, and a couple of others.

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