Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


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"Harvard Composers"
Walter PISTON (1894 - 1976)

String Quartet No.1 (1933) [17.36]
Leon KIRCHNER (b.1919)

String Quartet No.2 (1958) [15.58]
Earl KIM (1920 - 1998)

Three Poems in French (1989) [12.56]
Lucy Shelton, soprano
Bernard RANDS (b.1935)

String Quartet No.2 (1994) [13.36]
Mario DAVIDOVSKY (b.1934)

String Quartet No.5 (1998) [11.53]
Mendelssohn String Quartet: Miriam Fried, Nicholas, Mann, vv; Ulrich Eichenauer, vla; Macy Rowen, vc.
Notes in English, Deutsche, Français. English translations of the French song texts.
Photos of the artists. Surround sound 5.0, also plays in stereo.
Hybrid SACD plays on SACD players and on CD players.

BIS SACD 1264 [73.07]

All of these composers were professors of Music at Harvard and the quartet, while now in residence at the North Carolina School-of-the-Arts, were for nine years in residence at Harvard University.

The String Quartet No. 1 is the most substantial work I’ve heard from Walter Piston, my only musical acquaintance with whom to date has been through his orchestral works. While I rather liked the Munch recording of the 6th Symphony, I’ve never cared for The Incredible Flutist. I heard Piston speak at a seminar once in the late 1950s long after he had become an establishment professor type, and he delivered a clever talk disparaging electronic music, a safe topic since no one within miles would dream of disagreeing with him. This work from the 1930s is much more adventuresome that I’d expected — non-derivative, complex and well crafted, neither pretty nor abrasive. "American Style" makes only the merest shadow of an appearance. The slow movement particularly is exceptional and unlike anything else. The moto perpetuo finale is very entertaining. This is the jewel of this recording and is very much worth hearing if you like modern quartet music.

The Kirchner is a little less architectural, more experimental and exploratory, and slightly less successful a work than the Piston, although the last movement comes off very well.

Kim’s soprano songs are not tuneful, but effectively express the sad mood of the poems, two by Verlaine (En Sourdine, Colloque sentimental), one by Baudelaire (Recueillement), by means of long, lush, consonant lyrical phrases. The soprano has a somewhat more live acoustic than the accompanying quartet, leading one to wonder if the tracks were recorded on different occasions. The booklet translations are accurate and pretty much word-for-word literal, which is a good idea when one wants to follow the words as sung.

The Bernard Rands work was written for the Mendelssohn Quartet. It has a dark mood and contains self important dramatic gestures but is not so successful overall.

The Davidovsky piece (also written for the Mendelssohn Quartet) is inspired by, and utilises some motifs from, Beethoven’s Quartet No.15, Op 132, and is subtitled "Dank an Opus 132," perhaps a nod back 100 years when every American composer of note studied in Germany. Inviting a comparison with Beethoven is a very brave thing to do and perhaps has the utility of directing your attention away from Schoenberg’s Verklaerte Nacht, etc., which seems to have been very much on the composer’s mind. I have always felt that the Beethoven late quartets are the source of dodecaphonic style, and this work seems to substantiate that observation of mine, although what we have here is not strict serialism. It is however very much in the style of modern quartet music, measured and cut off the bolt. Since it isn’t pretty or dramatic, it is difficult to keep one’s attention on it, and one is not motivated to forgive it much however carefully it may have been crafted.

While all this music on this disc is interesting, I think that after you’ve had it a while you will probably not play the Rands or Davidovsky works very often.

The beauty of the SACD tracks is that there is "air" around every instrument, and since some of the writing is warmly consonant, some intentionally dissonant, it is important that the string texture be accurately reproduced, as on the SACD tracks. In the soprano songs this is particularly critical since the vocalist and instruments play in the same register, and on the CD tracks tend to merge into a single sound, even though soloist and accompaniment seem to be in different rooms acoustically. But if you’d never heard the SACD tracks, you’d be very pleased with the sound on the CD tracks, so it makes sense to buy this disk and enjoy it in the meantime even if you don’t presently have an SACD player.

On either set of tracks the surround sound is strictly auditorium image with instruments in front and subtle reverberation from the rear speakers, so subtle in fact that you may prefer to listen to the two channel version with your ambient processor turned on.

Paul Shoemaker


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