JOSEPH SCHWANTNER (b.1943): Dream Drapery “Thoreau Songs” for Baroque String Quartet, Contralto and 2 Crystal Goblets, ROBERT MORRIS (b.1943): Radif IV (Galax Version) “Stars of Highest Magnitude” for Baroque String Quartet and Crystal Goblets, MARC MELLITS (b.1966): String Quartet No. 2 “Revolution”.

Catalogue Number: 09W052

Label: Music & Arts

Reference: CD-1297

Format: CD

Price: $16.98

Description: Three largely dissimilar but equally approachable quartets, each with its own distinctive characteristics. Schwantner's Thoreau settings are beautiful and haunting; the composer’s recent tonal centered (if not exactly tonal) idiom lending itself well to Thoreau's bittersweet nature-paintings, their ambiguity and relative lack of repose underlined by the music. There is a constant sense of the passage of time in the composer’s choice of poems, and this is lent added poignancy by Schwantner's response to the death of a close friend during the process of composition. The poems are interrupted by a short setting of the words of the beginning of the Dies irae, using the plainchant motif, which pervades the autumnal remainder of the work. Schwantner's response to Thoreau's verse structures is exquisitely sensitive, notably in the breathless phrasing of "A Winter and Spring Scene", almost a patter song with post-minimalist accompaniment. Minimalism is closer to the surface in Mellits' work, three of its four movements inspired by mechanisms, specifically antiquated railway equipment in Romania, and children’s mechanical toys. Like early minimal works, these proceed in whirling mechanical gestures, repeating in patterns rather than evolving. The slow movement is a sombre reflection on the Romanian revolution of 1989, gentle human pathos among the relentless machines. Morris' Radif series uses an encyclopedia of middle-eastern modes as raw material for an endless series of combinations of melodic fragments. The results are again related to pre-romantic minimalism, here modal rather than tonal and borrowing the idea of a drone accompaniment, using crystal goblets to produce an eerie, quasi-electronic sound. Texts included. Karen R. Clark (contralto), Galax Quartet.


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