The string quartet is not just one of the ensembles I feel most comfortable writing for; is also one of my favorites to listen to. As you may have read, I have reviewed string quartet music in the past here, particularly David T. Bridges’s This Fragmented Old Man. (Check out the post here.) You can only imagine the excitement I felt when hearing that his work would be included in the album Quadrants Vol. 2 as performed by the Pedroia String Quartet, on Navona Records.
Album Review: Quadrants Vol. 2 – Pedroia String Quartet
This album is a diverse array of new music for string quartet. However, there seem to be several common underpinnings: Shostakovich-like long tones and bleak dissonance; lyrical consonance that floats freely without the constraints of traditional harmony; and a stellar performance by the Pedroia String Quartet.
The CD begins with a somewhat meditative piece, Paul Osterfield’s Khamsin. The balance of action and stasis, whether it is action in rhythm or stasis in pitch content, seems to be a recurring device in this piece. I was at first disappointed that the piece seemed to follow a conventional structure–i.e. that it seemed like it would have a climax in the usual spot with conventional rises and falls, but I was pleasantly surprised in the last third of the work; its eschewing of typical climax structures was very welcome. The performance by the quartet was spot-on, and allows the listener to focus less on the techniques involved and more on the artistic flow of the work. I commend them for their work on the artificial harmonics in the middle of the piece.
Even though I had previously analyzed David T. Bridges’s This Fragmented Old Man, I found it a new experience given the time between my last listening and this one. The quartet seems to have connected with this piece, as the blend of energy and union between the players once again allows the listener to get something more out of the piece than objective sound and shape.
Ferdinando De Sena’s work String Quartet No. 1 is performed well by the quartet, and blends consonance with a free-floating sense of harmony. Titled the composer’s first string quartet, it shows a solid understanding of harmonic shift and string technique. Again, the quartet does a good job navigating the work in its many sections both as movements within the work, and sections within each movement.
The quartet’s ability to tackle this diverse repertoire shows again with Peter Deutsch’s Departure. While the conceptual material does stretch a bit long, the musical content is brought forth by the quartet in a way that makes the journey through this piece just the right length; not too drawn-out nor too succinct.
The somewhat Shostakovich-like Hymnody by Katherine Price is reminiscent of the pacing of Barber’s Adagio (with a smaller orchestration). This track is the one that gets the idea of slowness and stillness the best on the record. Sometimes a composer just really needs to write slow music, and this performance is slow enough to be as effective as the piece can be. The lyrical pacing is the reason this piece is one of the most well-composed on the record.
In a way, I wish Lamentations by Marvin Lamb were either shorter or longer; shorter by choosing less material and expanding it to the extreme, or longer by expanding each existing amount of material to the extreme. In other words, the beginning is so expansive that the chunky, moment-to-moment material seems to flow less. While navigated expertly by the Pedroia Quartet, the 16-and-a-half-minute timing could either be condensed or turned into a Feldman-like gigantic prism.
Overall, the Pedroia Quartet has shown that they can perform a wide array of harmonic and temporal structures. The common themes in this album encourage me to listen on repeat, and so I encourage you to check it out too. The link to the album on Navona’s website is http://www.navonarecords.com/catalog/nv6184/.
As you have read, some tracks stand apart from the others but overall there is not a bad piece nor bad performance on the record. Take a listen to the trailer audio at the link above and consider supporting new composers and new music ensembles like the artists showcased on this CD. We need to encourage more composers and ensembles to share this quality of work and get paid for it; art is not free, especially to the artist.
Solid album; please keep these artists on your radar. 3.5 stars
I was provided a promotional copy of this album for the purposes of writing a review, but my review is impartial and is not affected by being provided a copy. The copy just allowed me to review it, whether negatively or positively, as is the case with most album reviews by critics.