Review by Beagle September 14, 2010 (7 of 8 found this review helpful)
|In regard to the incestuous love-making of Siegmund and Sieglinde, comedienne Anna Russell said “You can do anything in opera, as long as you SING it…”. The pieces on this disc suggest that you can do anything in a string quartet, as long as you do it CANTABILE… even 'modern' music.
Unlike Britten’s more familiar music, e.g. Peter Grimes, his quartets are thoroughly rooted in his own century, the Twentieth – but their modal polytonality is (1) melodic and (2) transparent, thus acceptable to unhardened ears. His friend Shostakovich used the quartet for private jokes and opinions away from the spotlight of official soviet scrutiny; Britten uses the genre to explore music beyond the ears of large concert hall audiences – like Beethoven before him. Exploration does not mean experimentation; there is indeed more music out there beyond the pentatonic scale....
We all have our 'pet peeves', little details that elicit a reaction every time: I usually grumble when programmers shuffle works out of chronological order – but the incipit of Britten’s Second Quartet which begins this disc is, I dare to say, perhaps the most beautiful passage he ever wrote, and therefore the perfect entry point: viola and cello slowly state a modal tune beneath a shimmering aura of overtones from the violins… ‘sympathetic’ in every sense! And so the music continues, as if these works were a single piece and not a miscellany written between the age of 16 and 32: the same thoughtful game of taming modern tonality (and no ugly 'experiments' included for historic completeness).
The Emperor Quartet were an unknown when I ordered this disc, but Martin Burgess, Clare Hayes, Fiona Bonds and William Schofield immediately convinced me that their Britten is The Britten; after one listening I can’t imagine the music phrased in any other manner. In my mind’s eye I see Benny grinning from cheek to cheek.
THE SOUND MAGICIANS
This music intrigues the senses and engages the mind, even on humble redbook CD – but on this superaudio recording it is a miracle of space and clarity: wide space, deep clarity and strings that sound* like semi-sweet chocolate…. Bravo to sound engineer Jeffrey Ginn.
--And Bravo to BIS and our dear friend Bissie for bringing music, musician and magician together. These are only four of Britten’s dozen works for string quartet, so I hope this Britten Quartets Volume 1 will be quickly followed by Volume 2 etc. This is SACD as it ought to be.
*Haydn: String Quartets Op. 54 - Parkanyi Quartet arrived in the same package, and its strings sound, as the cellist-wife has it, “a bit piercing”.
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