Philip Glass CD reviews – NAXOS
The Strad – August 2010
By opening the disc with the Second Quartet, the Carducci has chosen to begin with the most readily accessible of Philip Glass’s five quartet scores. Created by combining four short interludes from a 1983 staging of Samuel Beckett’s prose-poem ‘Company’, it came at a time when Glass was fully immersed in his now familiar Minimalist style. The Third followed two years later and used music from the film documenting the life of the Japanese author Yukio Mishima. It’s strong and dramatic in content, and its weight and gravitas continue into the Fourth Quartet written in memory of the experimental artist Brian Buczak. For the First Quartet, we go back to 1966 and a time when Glass was still searching for a musical identity that would discard serialism. If he wasn’t quite successful in forging an individual voice, the two-movement score is still striking. Bringing these works to life requires a multitude of nuances and spotless intonation, and the young British-based Carducci Quartet flawlessly meets the challenge. The intricate web of sound throughout is rhythmically precise and crystal clear, with minute changes of dynamics unfailingly achieved. The recording is generous in the lower reaches, adding to Emma Denton’s richly toned cello.
Gramophone – Sept 2010
By performing these works with an intense and focused detachment,the Carduccis allow the music to speak for itself. They also get it right on the only work which demands a degree of emotional intensity-the early,proto-minimalist String Quartet No1-whch,in its use of epigrammatic atonal cycles,sounds like Webern fragments looped over and over again.
Listening to this disc, it struck me that the string quartet as a format is a very effective vehicle for what one might term the pure ideal of minimalism. What I mean by this is that you have four similar-sounding instruments, capable of blending to produce a homogeneity of tone in which the slowly changing variations of pitch or rhythm blur imperceptibly so that the journey from start to finish is achieved incrementally with few definable ‘events’. This kind of music is far harder to play well than it might first appear. Players need to be able to maintain an absolute even-ness of sound, pure intonation and strip their playing of the natural expressiveness you spend the rest of your career cultivating. All praise to the Carducci Quartet who do such a tremendous job here. I wouldn’t mind having a bet that they left three days of sessions for these quartets utterly exhausted – it takes a ferocious amount of concentration to play with the control they display throughout…The Carduccis play throughout with a cool assurance that seems to fit the idiom perfectly. The internal balancing of the voices is really well achieved and unlike many quartets they are not afraid to play truly quietly – to the point where the instruments’ tone thins and weakens. I’m sure this etiolated, winnowed sound is exactly what Glass had in mind and it gives the music a haunted spectral quality that works especially well…an excellent aural balance between intimacy, detail and ambience – just like having the best seat at a chamber music concert.Nick Barnard
Sunday Telegraph 4/7/10
Carducci Quartet * * * * Sixty-four minutes of Philip Glass’s repeating arpeggios and circling harmonic patterns, scored for the monochrome sound of the string quartet, might seem a recipe for aural purgatory. In fact this CD has some beautiful and moving inventions…The soft dissonant tracery of the early First Quartet is an intriguing surprise, but the other three quartets are in Glass’s familiar style. The Carducci Quartet’s performances are a marvel of sensitivity, and the recorded sound has a lovely soft glow.
The Observer 20/6/10
“Stripped of Glass’s familiar thudding keyboards and ethereal voices, yet inhabiting that same oscillating sound world, these quartets have their own beguiling power…Admirably played by the Carduccis”
Philip Glass’ two-movement 1966 First quartet bears gestural seeds of the repetitive style for which he’s both deified and derided, although its dissonant idiom is light years removed from what we normally associate with this composer. Imagine late Shostakovich with the proverbial needle stuck in the groove (pardon my outdated vinyl LP reference!), or a louder, more loquacious Morton Feldman, and you’ll get the idea.
Quartets 2 and 3 derive from theatrical scores. The Second comprises four brief interludes for Mabou Mines’ staging of Samuel Beckett’s prose-poem Company, and largely center around the key of A minor. Sound cues from Glass’ soundtrack to Paul Schrader’s film Mishima make up the Third’s five movements. By contrast, the Fourth’s three movements are larger in scale and more ambitious in terms of harmonic and textural scope. In fact, the first movement’s long C major double-stop sequences wouldn’t be out of place in Dvorák, while Beethoven’s spirit seems to inform the third movement’s sudden dynamic dips and surprising silences.
The Carducci Quartet more than holds its own in this repertoire alongside the Kronos and Smith Quartets. They match the Smith’s tonal ripeness and dynamic breadth in No. 1, but with more liberal vibrato all around and stronger rhythmic accentuation in the first movement’s climax. The Carducci’s bass-oriented blend and somewhat statuesque treatment of the Second’s third movement and the Third’s finale markedly differ from the Kronos’ lighter, more conversational repartee. On the other hand, the Carduccis bring more shapely profile to the accompanying patterns and sustained violin melodies of the Fourth’s second movement than either of their estimable colleagues. And in No. 2’s churning finale, the Carduccis strike a happy medium between the Kronos’ delicate inner “swing” and the Smith’s relatively austere, immaculately controlled soft textures.
Naxos’ resonant ambient warmth suits this ensemble’s sonority, although my own tastes lean toward the drier sonic intimacy Nonesuch provides for Kronos. What’s most important is just how well Glass’ quartets make an impact through different interpretive perspectives, and the Carducci Quartet deserves nothing less than a solid recommendation, with the promise that they’ll record Glass’ Fifth quartet as well. [6/21/2010]
Brian Boydell CD reviews
* * * * * Irish Examiner – May 2010
Complete String Quartets
CARDUCCI CLASSICS CSQ8841
This CD is the second significant recording of music by Irish composers to reach my desk recently, the first being the RTE Lyric FM Orchestral Works by Aloys Fleischmann. Fleischmann and Boydell were friends, both held university posts and each made a huge contribution to music education in Ireland but their perception of how they regarded their compositional output differed radically. Fleischmann consciously sought to integrate specifically Gaelic elements in his music. Boydell did not, preferring to be regarded as a contributor to the European canon of composition.
He regarded these quartets as the finest music that he had written and it is easy to hear why. They are dramatic, have clear musical ideas, are superbly written for the medium and, while obviously of their time, not aggressively ‘modern’. From the beginning of each work one’s attention is grabbed by either clear melodic ideas, exciting rhythms, or arresting colours and the attentive listener can follow Boydell’s thought processes as he works through these ideas. The four quartets are a valuable addition to the string quartet repertory and, thanks to the superb interpretations on this CD, they may well join the quartets of Janacek, Bartok, and Shostakovich as standard 20th century concert items.
The expressive playing of the Carducci Quartet (Matthew Denton & Michelle Fleming- violins- Eoin Schmidt-Martin-viola- and Emma Denton-cello) is beautifully balanced, clear, and, technically, of the highest quality.So is the recording quality. Furthermore, the phrasing and dynamics are so exquisitely planned that the ear is led into the heart and soul of music that is always going somewhere. This is an important recording, one for which I am profoundly grateful; also, one in which Music Network and the Arts Council (funding agents) can take great pride.
* * * * Irish Times – June 2010
It’s surely no accident that a man who founded a vocal ensemble and chose to name it after John Dowland should write string quartets with a streak of the melancholy for which Dowland was so celebrated. The three string quartets by Brian Boydell, who formed his Dowland Consort in 1959, were written in 1949 (when the composer was 32), 1957 and 1969, with a long delay before a final Adagio and Scherzo in 1991. You only have to listen to the openings of either the First or Second Quartets, or turn your ear to the frequent occurence of sadly wilting lines, to register the affinity. The music’s moments of Bartok-like rhythmic agitation sound less natural. Here, on the 10th anniversary of the composer’s death, the Carducci Quartet offer the first complete recorded survey of his quartets, and play as if they have the music in their blood.
MusicWeb International – Oct 2010
The Carducci Quartet have a pretty adventurous pedigree witness their catalogue:
• Joseph Horovitz – Fantasia and Quartets with Nicholas Daniel (oboe) Carducci Classics CSQ6482
• Graham Whettam – Quartets with Jennie-Lee Keetley (oboe) Carducci Classics CSQ5847
• Philip Gates – A Garland for Gatsby with Andrew Knights (oboe); Philip Gates (piano) Melodist 3130CD
• Philip Glass – String Quartets 1-4 Naxos 8.559636
They now extend their coverage to Brian Boydell. The music of this Irish composer is worth more than a passing audition. Fortunately a range of discs, modest in number, allows closer acquaintance. The 1954 Violin Concerto and In Memoriam Mahatma Gandhi, Masai Mara and Megalithic Ritual Dances played by Maighread McCrann (violin) with Colman Pearce conducting the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland are on Marco Polo 8.223887 (we could do with a review of this if anyone has a copy). Boydell studied at the RCM in London with Patrick Hadley and Herbert Howells (1938-45) then with John Larchet himself a gifted composer, in Dublin.
The Second Quartet was premiered in 1959. Its two movements sing through a delicate interlace of ecstatically pastoral material. Rather than his declared models of Bartók, Sibelius and Mahler it is Patrick Hadley I hear in this lovely work. The breathtaking quietude of the end of the first movement suggests some unspeakably beautiful vision only capable of articulation through music. The second movement is more spiky – almost jazzy.
The Third Quartet is in one longish movement. It was first aired by the RTE String Quartet in 1970. Neither of its predecessors evince avant-garde credentials. This however has a chilly and thorny essence on display. That said it is not without an infusion of lyrical succulence. Nowhere is Boydell as ‘extreme’ as Mátyás Seiber in his masterly Third Quartet “Lirico”. Boydell’s music seems benevolently caught between the poles represented by Berg’s Lulu and Warlock’s Curlew. The work ends in an echo of Beethovenian defiance.
Boydell’s First Quartet was premiered in Dublin in February 1952 by the Cirulli Quartet. It too has its Curlew moments but it is tougher than I had expected. The complexity of the textures has probably hampered its progress. However when these thin out, as in the pensive melancholy at the end of the first movement, things improve. The central Allegro Selvaggio is athletic radiating some ingratiatingly lyrical tendrils. The long final Allegro (Adagio) has vitality but there is a severity there too though it’s most poetically rounded out in a manner that looks forward to the wonderful end of the first movement of the Second Quartet. Gareth Cox, who provides the liner-note, tells us that in this work Boydell began to leave behind the too obvious influences of RVW, Sibelius and Bartok. I certainly agree.
The Adagio and Scherzo was premiered by the work’s dedicatees, the Degani Quartet on the occasion of the 1992 quatercentenary celebrations for Trinity College, Dublin. It was finished on time in 1991. It’s another diptych this time from the latest chapter of the composer’s career. That Bergian Curlew-despair throws deep shadows as well as intimations of a tender nocturnal beauty.
The urgent attention of admirers of Boydell’s music and of twentieth century string quartets in general is drawn to this disc. Boydell creates a distinctive and very beautiful realm but is by no means facile of access.
Joseph Horovitz CD reviews
GRAMOPHONE – JANUARY 2009
‘A tardy but tasty tribute to Horovitz featuring a Couperin sandwich’
I gave a warm welcome to a Dutton CD of four concertos by Joseph Horovitz (11/07). This Carducci Quartet collection spotlights very different aspects of a composer who, though born in Vienna, has graced the British music scene for 60 years. Varied in style though the concertos are, they’re all very much on the lighter side. That mood is carried over into the 1957 Oboe Quartet, in which the composer draws attention to the instruments’s pastoral nature. The tuneful finale especially might be an expression of the joys of a shepherd tending his flock.
The remainder of the music here is very different. Of five string quartets, Horovitz’s first three were student works. The Fourth (1953) is a dark and disturbing composition that emerged after Horovitz had devoted four years largely to light-hearted opera and ballet music. If that was a case of striking an emotional balance, the deeply restless, single-movement Fifth (1969) reflects memories of the composer’s boyhood emigration. Its sponsors, its dedicatee (Sir Ernst Gombrich) and three of its first performers (the Amadeus Quartet) were also Jewish refugees.
The Couperin Fantasia is another sometimes morose work, noteworthy for its 11-solo-string-part writing. With Couperin’s theme framed by one of Horovitz’s, the piece attracted from one radio announcer the description of a ‘Couperin sandwich’. The whole collection may indeed be said to make another tasty tribute to a composer too long neglected on CD.
**** BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE – JUNE 2008
Strongly and beautifully crafted works, full of an almost Tippett-like ‘joie de vivre’. The ‘Couperin Fantasia’ is a coruscating treat. Excellent performances, too.
JOSEPH HOROVITZ: Fantasia on a Theme of Couperin*; Oboe Quartet; String Quartets Nos 4 & 5 Carducci Quartet and Ensemble*
Nicholas Daniel, Oboe
Carducci Classics CSQ 6482 57’02”
We have become used, during the last decade or so, to symphony orchestras having their own record label, such organisations issuing live concerts or studio recordings themselves, but I don’t recall many string quartets, if any, apart from the present ensemble starting a record label of their own. Having heard an earlier disc from the Carducci Quartet and been impressed thereby, I give the highest praise to this outstanding new release of chamber music by Joseph Horovitz. It is good news that this fine and very gifted composer has been receiving recently a too-long-delayed general recognition of his art, and this exceptionally well played and beautifully recorded disc of what the composer has said are some of his more ‘serious’ works will further draw attention to the range and depth of his music.The music dates from between 1953 and 1969, and I find it quite extraordinary that a masterly score such as the Fantasia on a Theme of Couperin should have had to wait so long for a recording; dating from 1953, it has perhaps been sidelined, quite unfairly, by Tippett’s Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli from the same period, also for String Ensemble, but Joseph Horovitz’s work can certainly stand comparison with the more well known Tippett score. The three other works are all equally impressive, especially the very fine String Quartets; real string quartet writing, this, although I would have preferred the final note in the Fourth Quartet to have been slightly more elongated, to bring this work to a more definite conclusion. Some may feel, as I do, that the Oboe Quartet pays homage to the composer’s adopted country. It is without question a work of genuine imaginative character, perhaps ‘lighter’ in expression, but no less serious in compositional skill.This is a very impressive record; the playing is excellent, the recording is of high quality and the music is by a genuine and most admirable creative figure.
May-June Issue 2008
Graham Whettam CD reviews
The Strad – Jan 08
More than 30 years separate these two string quartets by British composer Graham Whettam, who died in August aged 79. The Carducci Quartet premiered the Fourth Quartet in 2001, and the First appeared in 1968. There is a meditative quality to the earlier work, despite its abundant vigour, born of its long, slow soliloquies for individual instruments and its contemplative duo-writing in the last movement. The players here are, as it happens, peculiarly suited to this movement, being two married couples, and they play it beautifully, clear and sweet toned, spinning out the long, weaving lines with languid grace.
They bring similar qualities to the central Adagio of the Oboe Quartet, another of Whettam’s ethereal movements. There is a wonderful translucence in the playing of its lean, spare textures. In the outer movements the oboe – working through its repertoire of special techniques, quarter tones, harmonics and all – is much the dominant instrument, splendidly played by Jennie-Lee Keetley. The Carducci brings fizz and bite to this often acerbic but attractive music.
Whettam’s Fourth Quartet is probably the finest work here, and the Carducci players seem to have the full measure of it. The playing of the grave, intense first movement is particularly captivating, but throughout the quartet the pace and flow of the music, its shifting, subtle colours, seem well-nigh perfectly caught. This is a work that deserves a place in the repertoire, but further recordings would be hard-pushed to better this one. The sound is both resonant and clear.
Recording of the Month (www.musicweb-international.com)
Graham Whettam had no formal musical education. This did nothing to hinder his productivity. There have been five symphonies, four string quartets and various pieces for chamber music. This brings us neatly to the disc in question.
It is stunningly recorded and has a wonderful plangent immediacy. The first string quartet was commissioned by Jack Brymer. It is dedicated to the composer-conductor Eugene Goossens who was a house guest of Whettam’s at the time of writing. The music moves from stabbing lyricism that has parallels with Tippett to the sort of desolation associated with Warlock’s The Curlew. The drive and urgency carries over to the central scherzo. The finale has the character of a tombeau – gravely reflective, emotion drained. It is impressive for a concentration that fitfully recalls the last two Bridge quartets. It ends in a mystical interplay of high harmonics. Having written an Oboe Quartet for Victor Swillens in 1960 Whettam returned to the medium a decade or so later. Again Whettam impresses with eldritch writing which moves between the singing heart of the oboe as reflected in the Arnold concerto to a Curlew like loneliness. The final Rondo skips along in a macabre cavort that might well recall the King Pest movement in Lambert’s Summer’s Last Will but crossed with the bagpipe skirl to be expected from the title. The Fourth Quartet’s opening movement evolved from playing with the Arts Council’s initials in music. This piece is concentratedly dissonant and more powerful than the other two works. Whettam likes long scherzos and that is what we get. This one is gritty, aggressive, macabre and flies along with a strong wingbeat. After a predominantly morose Passacaglia lit by an astringent cantabile comes a Rondo-Finale. This is again borne along by muscular and athletic propulsion. Even so, there is an enchanted still centre – quietly whistling, almost self-effacing, gently chafing. This rises to extended and memorable dominance in the last whispered three minutes.
This will certainly appeal if you already have the two Redcliffe Whettam CDs. Beyond that it should also be sought out if your tastes already centre around Frank Bridge, his later quartets, Oration and There is a Willow and the music of Bernard van Dieren and Eugene Goossens. As ever these are appallingly rough approximations but will give you some idea of what to expect.
Musical Opinion – Nov 07
A melancholy aspect attends this new CD, for it was received for review just a week or so after the death of Graham Whettam was announced. This remarkable British composer was 80 years old in the very month of his death in September, and his individual character and approach to his tasks on more than one occasion tended to place him to one side of the stream of contemporary British music.
Graham Whettam was a born composer, first and foremost, and it has been an enlightening experience to encounter these three works in such excellent performances, for their musical content is high.
They are all deeply serious works at heart and although they do not abjure occasional lightness of touch they equally do not reveal their qualities so readily at first. The language is modern, of course, but with traditional modes of expression such as tonality, structural cohesion and writing which does not attack the instruments, so I have found myself returning again and again to these works, discovering new things that previously I had missed. The recording is excellent and the composer himself provided informative Booklet Notes. This is a valuable and highly recommendable CD, a worthy commemoration of a fine and unjustly neglected British composer.
Musical Pointers – Oct 07
Carducci Classics CSQ5847 [64 mins]
These quartets recorded in celebration of the 80th birthday of a self taught English composer are welcome offerings by a fine string quartet (its members two young married couples !) which is clearly determined to escape the well worn path of the over-recorded canon of masterworks.
In the impressive website of his own publishing house Meriden Music, the prolilfic composer Graham Whettam (1927 – 2007*) publishes over 75 of his own works. He explains there that his early influences were Bartok and Mahler, and he found his own ‘voice’ by listening self-critically to his works played by eminent musicians and orchestras.
Of those quartets recorded here, I enjoyed best the first (1960/67) and was impressed by the playing of the Carduccis and the perfect recording by Thomas Hewitt Jones in an excellent church ambience at Leonard Stanley in the Cotswolds.
Well constructed in three movements, rather conservative for its time, the string quartet is followed on the CD by an oboe solo played by the feisty Jennie-Lee Keetley without pause (a nice touch) to open the second of these three quartets. But, against the grain and in my view unwisely, Whettam responded with “advanced playing techniques in vogue at the time” for the oboe as specified in the commission (with a few strings glisses etc thrown in).
But it is good to have music to hear that is diligently put together and completely unknown; any one of these pieces would find a welcome as a novelty in a chamber music recital.
Peter Grahame Woolf
Performers: The Carducci Quartet,Patricia Rozario, Eamonn Dougan, Joachim Roewer, Malachy Robinson, Deirdre O’Leary.Elizabeth Cooney assisted by Tommaso Perego,Doreen Curran,The Dublin Guitar Quartet,Michael McHale, Vourneen Ryan and Ranjana Ghatak
Label: Louth Contemporary Music
Release: 1 November 2010. Dundalk Ireland
1. Chang Music IV Movt I (Dmitri Yanov Yanovsky).
2. Chang Music IV Movt II (Dmitri Yanov Yanovsky).
3. Von Angesicht zu Angesicht (Arvo Part).
4. Summa version for guitar quartet (Arvo Part).
5. Eternal Peace (Polina Medyulyanova).
6. The Spell III for violin & live electronics (Aleksandra Vrebalov).
7. Epistle of Love (John Tavener).
8. Quartet No.1 Mvt III Ad Libitum quasi adagio (Zurab Nadarejshvili).
9. Samaveda (John Tavener).
In 1985, the Italian composer Luigi Nono saw an inscription on the wall of the church of San Francisco in Toledo: “Caminantes, no hay caminos, hay que caminar” – “Travellers, there are no roads, but we must go on”. In 2010, Louth Contemporary Music Society (LCMS) take the listener on a rewarding journey on their new cd Path. First recordings of works by John Tavener ( Epistle of Love and Samaveda) and Arvo Pärt ( Von Angesicht zu Angesicht and Summa) are interspersed with new voices and sounds from different paths, Aleksandra Vrebalov from Serbia The Spell III, Uzbekistan courtesy of Dmitri Yanov Yanovsky’s Chang Music IV and Polina Medyulanova’s Ewige Ruhe plus Georgian composer’s Zurab Nadareishvili’s sublime String Quartet No1. The CD, which is released on the Society’s Louth Contemporary Music record label on 1 November 2010, comes in a beautiful limited edition release.
Path features a number of world renowned performers including the soprano Patricia Rozario, the Carducci Quartet, baritone Eamonn Dougan, Joachim Roewer violist, Malachy Robinson double bassist, clarinetist Deirdre O’Leary, pianist Michael McHale, violinist Elizabeth Cooney, flautist Vourneen Ryan and tampura player Ranjana Ghatak. The recordings were made in a number of settings: Potton Hall Suffolk, St.Michael’s Highgate London, St. Paul’s Deptford London and Grouse Lodge, Ireland with the mixing, mastering and editing carried out in Six Productions suite in London. Path will be available for purchase both as a CD and online at the iTunes Store from 1 November 2010.
The CD opens with the beguiling sonorities of Yanov-Yanovsky’s Chang Music IV (1991), where the composer succeeds in transferring the sounds of the Uzbek Chang a traditional Uzbek instrument to the string quartet. Pärt’s Von Angesicht zu Angesicht (2005) is a contemplation on the First Letter of St.Paul to the Corinthians “For now we see through a glass, darkly” sung with great reverence by Eamonn Dougan and Patricia Rozario. The Dublin Guitar Quartet perform Pärt’s Summa (1997/1991) for the first time in a sumptuous version for guitar quartet under the guidance of the composer. Medyulanova’s meditative Ewige Ruhe (2004) allows a moment of calm for the departed to be followed by Vrebalov’s mystical The Spell III (2008) which includes sampled voices from the vocal group Moba. Tavener’s deeply moving Epistle of Love (2000) features the haunting voice of Patricia Rozario and lute like piano playing of Michael McHale. Nadareishvili’s reflective String Quartet No1,Mvt III (1987) is performed with great sensitivity by the Carducci quaret and the cd closes with the Indian influenced composition Sámaveda (1997) for soprano, flute and tampura.
Path is presented with funding from the Music Network/Arts Council Music Recording Scheme 2009, and financially supported by Create Louth.
The Strad – February 2011
The players of the excellent Carducci Quartet are the perfect exponents of this lyrical yet gritty collection of contemporary music, which includes world-premiere recordings of Arvo Part alongside works by lesser-known composers from Uzbekistan, Serbia and Georgia, as well as a pair of new vocal pieces by John Tavener.Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky’s otherworldly Chang Music IV for quartet makes a strong start, and the second of its two movements is particularly appealing: the infectious pulse is thrummed out on the bodies of the instruments while fragments of pizzicato and glissando build up, layer upon layer.Equally compelling is the third movement of Zurab Nadarejshvili’s String Quartet no.1 from the hocketed pizzicato of the opening to the climactic wild lament…The Carducci Quartet never slackens the intensity. Recorded sound throughout has superb presence.
An Overgrown Path.
Path from Louth Contemporary Music’s own label is one of those rare ‘stop you dead in your tracks’ discs. From the very first bars it is clear that something quite exceptional has been captured; this is an intelligently planned programme of important music played by exceptional musicians and recorded in demonstration quality sound. Of the nine works on the disc, eight are given world premiere recordings including two by Arvo Pärt and two by John Tavener. The first two tracks are premiere recordings of two movements of Chang Music IV by the Uzbek composer Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky played by the Carducci Quartet and the price of the disc is justified by those 15 minutes of music alone. Add to that Ewige Ruhe (Eternal Peace) from another Uzbek composer, Polina Medyulyanova, a quartet movement from GeorgianZurab Nadarejshvili and The Spell III for violin and electronics by Serbian Aleksandra Vrebalov and you have what looks to be a strong contender for my 2010 disc of the year.
The Irish Times – Friday, October 22, 2010
Various performers, Louth Contemporary Music Society LCMS 1001 ****
Louth Contemporary Music Society is one of the most adventurous music promoters in Ireland. It also stretches its boundaries in the recording studio as well as in concert. The centre of gravity on this latest disc lies to the East. Dimitri Yanov-Yanovski and Polina Nadarejshvili are from Uzbekistan, Zurab Nadarejshvili from Georgia, Arvo Pärt from Estonia, and Alexandra Vrebalov from Serbia. And the one Englishman, John Tavener, has been heavily influenced by the music of the Orthodox Church, and, on Samaveda , Indian Saman chant. Reflective calm is the dominanting characteristc, sometimes conveying a mode and mood that can seem almost frozen, memories locked and looping, distilled for minutest inspection. There are strong performances from a line-up that includes the Carducci Quartet, the Dublin Guitar Quartet, soprano Patricia Rozario and pianist Michael McHale.Michael Dervan
Classical Cd Reviews Oct 2010
Multiple allusions and meanings are suggested by the title of this new LCMS release. In one sense, the idea of a path, or of progress in a given direction is at odds with the relative stasis of much the music. It is apt in other ways though, in particular in the choice of composers for the project. Two top selling, senior names from the first generation of religious minimalism are represented: Arvo Pärt and John Tavener. But the rest of the music is by younger composers, suggesting perhaps a path towards the future of this kind of music. The term ‘path’ could also refer to the Silk Road, for much of this music either originates from, or alludes directly to, cultures of central Asia.
Yanov-Yanovsky’s ‘Chang Music IV’ was commissioned by the Kronos Quartet, and its place at the start of this programme sets the tone of the disc, a tone very similar to that of many Kronos releases. It evokes the chang, a string instrument of Uzbekistan that is apparently plays continuous glissandos. Yanov-Yanovsky is himself Uzbek, although that doesn’t necessarily make him immune from charges of orientalism when writing to an American commission. But whatever the ethnography here, and elsewhere on the disc, the result is very enjoyable. It is tranquil, but there is always a slight edge to the timbre.
That edge is a recurring feature in the following works. Most are calm, but not so eventless as to be ambient. The programme strikes an impressive balance between spiritual directness and intellectual engagement. The variety of approaches from the various composers means that that balance is reconfigured and re-evaluated with almost every work.
The programme works forwards and backwards of Yanovsky, at least in terms of the ages of the composers. The contributions from Pärt and Tavener, while they may help the disc to sell, are not the most interesting works on offer. Pärt’s arrangement of (the already oft-arranged) ‘Summa’ for guitar quartet is a canny reworking, the addition of the plucked strings to the sustained chords giving just enough added interest to justify it. His ‘Von Angesicht zu Angesicht’ seems to recall the composer’s avant-garde days, interspersing as it does sustained vocal textures with almost pointillist interjections from the clarinet and viola.
John Tavener has many followers, who seem curiously accepting of his various eccentricities, but ‘Epistle of Love’ may stretch even their patience. It is a song cycle for soprano and piano, although you could easily mistake the accompaniment for a harp. It is written in a sort of pseudo-medaevil style, which I have to say, does nothing for me. His ‘Sámaveda’ is slightly more interesting, including as it does a tampura, which is an Indian drone instrument. Of course, the interaction a composer can have with an instrument that only plays a single note is always going to be limited, but it is an interesting touch.
Much, much more interesting, however, are the three works by the unknown composers, or at least unknown to me. Polina Medyulyanova is another Uzbek composer, but she is more comfortable than Yanovsky with Western idioms. Her work ‘Ewige Ruhe’ is for soprano, clarinet and string quartet, and stylistically seems to transcend any sense of location. Religious minimalism from Eastern Europe has clearly had an influence, but there are also French and German flavours here, and all woven up in the simplest of textures. Vrebalov’s ‘The Spell III’ for violin and live electronics is that rarest of works, an electro-acoustic piece that makes subtle use of the electronic component. The sound of the violin is manipulated to create almost vocal background sounds, chants and cries. Nadarejshvili’s String Quartet no.1, of which only third movement is presented, builds clouds of string textures around themes taken from Georgian chant. It is an effective device, and all the more so for the fact that there is always some definition to the sound. Like all the works on the disc, its ambience is tempered by the always apparent presence of the individual instruments, and by articulations that pinpoint the individual notes in the texture.
The term ‘religious minimalism’ is clearly becoming obsolete as the composers from the East who specialise in spiritual music increasingly broaden their horizons. The younger composers showcased here are not of a generation who were defined, artistically speaking, through explicit opposition to Soviet aesthetic ideology, and the result seems to be music that engages with a wider cultural context, yet has the same intensity of feeling and emotional focus.
The performances and recordings here are excellent, and well up to the standards set by the previous LCMS release ‘A Place Between’. Unlike that earlier recording, this one was made in four different locations, not all of them churches, yet a consistently ambient acoustic is maintained throughout. Of the performers, soprano Particia Rozario deserves special mention, as does the Carducci Quartet, who prove impressively adept at moving between the styles of the various composers. The packaging design is adventurous, more so than the big labels dare these days, or perhaps more so than the big labels are prepared to pay for. Happily, LCMS is the kind of organisation that is prepared stand out from the crowd. In terms of programming, that’s the real strength of this disc. I’m sure many people will buy it to hear the Tavener and Pärt, but I suspect they will find themselves enjoying the works of the younger composers more.