Hyperion has reissued on its midpriced Helios label this fine program of English works for string quartet, recorded in 1994. The composers, born approximately 20 years apart in the order given in the headnote, offer an insight into the evolutionary trends in British music before, throughout, and after the 20th century’s two Great Wars.
These quartets are Juilliard specialties, and anyone wanting to hear this music played with a near ideal combination of virtuosity and humanity need look no further. Carter's quartets are not for the musically faint of heart: they are uncompromisingly thorny, intricate pieces that require lots of intense, dedicated listening. Very few people doubt their seriousness–or even their claims to musical greatness–but just as few people enjoy listening to them. Perhaps this spectacular set will encourage the adventurous to give them a shot. They're worth the time.
It has been awhile since anyone recorded a new disc of Charles Ives' string quartets, and here the Blair String Quartet takes the plunge. He only wrote two numbered quartets that are like equivalents to night and day – the radiant, camp meeting-inspired First Quartet and the furiously punk-meets-transcendentalism Second. String Quartet No. 1, "From the Salvation Army," dates from 1898 and contains some of Ives' finest instrumental music couched in a reasonably stable and conventional style.
Alban Berg wrote twice for string quartet, and both results stand tall in his output. On this Naive disc, a reissue of an earlier Montaigne release, the Arditti Quartet perform these pieces. The lineup of the Ardittis at this time was Irvine Arditti and David Alberman (violin), Levine Andrade (viola) and Rohan de Saram (cello).
Like his more famous compatriot Krzysztof Penderecki, Poland's Krzysztof Meyer experimented freely with avant-garde musical techniques early in his career before evolving towards more traditional yet still complex and challenging compositional parameters. While he has compiled a large and impressive body of orchestral and vocal work, I find his chamber music most compelling, especially his 12 string quartets, which I rate among the best written during the past four decades.