From an early age Max Bruch had enjoyed the ideal conditions for becoming a composer: his family had considerable cultural awareness and gave him all the support he needed. He had already composed not only a (lost) symphony but a significant proportion of his chamber music while still a student. The two youthful String Quartets Op.9 in C minor and Op.10 in E major show a Romantic exuberance poured into classic and classical moulds. The members of the ISOS Quartet — Isabelle van Keulen, Katharine Gowers, Vladimir Mendelssohn and Imke Frank — know each other from several important summer festivals as Lockenhaus and Kuhmo. As their CD debut, they recorded both string quartets by Max Bruch exclusively for Koch International Schwann.
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.
First released in 1984 and reissued in 2001, this disc featuring the Alban Berg Quartet's recordings of the string quartets of Debussy and Ravel, as well as Stravinsky's Three Pieces, Concertino, and Double Canon for string quartet should never be out of the catalog. The Alban Berg Quartet is not necessarily the first group one would think of for this repertoire, but the performances here are consistently impressive, if somewhat uncharacteristic.
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.
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.