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Douglas BRILEY (b. 1971)
Quintet for a Healing Nation (2002) [19:23]
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)

Phantasy piano quartet in f-sharp minor (1910) [13:19]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Piano quartet no. 3 in c minor, Op. 60 (1875) [33:48]
The Adkins String Ensemble: Elizabeth Adkins, Alexandra Adkins Wenig, Madaline Adkins, violin; Clare Adkins Cason, violin and viola; Anthony Adkins, Christopher Adkins, cello and Edward Newman, piano.
Recorded 7-12 August, 2003 at the Mesquite Arts Center, Mesquite, Texas. DDD
Also includes a bonus DVD in super audio formats.
JABEZ PRESS JP98201[66:29]

The Adkins String Ensemble, a remarkable group of siblings à cordes, is a Texas treasure, which along with pianist Edward Newman (related to the family by marriage), are long overdue for a place in the international crown of musical glory. In this astounding disc, the Adkins have produced one of the finest recordings of chamber music that has crossed my desk in some years.

The program opens with a new work by American composer Douglas Briley. The Quintet for a Healing Nation was inspired by the events of September 11, 2001. Briley wisely avoids jumping on the flag-draped bandwagon, which has since that awful day brought about a flood of opportunistically patriotic dreck from lesser composers. Instead, he has created a most appealing and substantial work, which, although clearly akin to similar compositions by Elgar and Fauré, is still quite original in its approachability.

Carefully avoiding cliché, Mr. Briley leans toward late-romanticism; painting large musical canvasses with a broad brush in bold colors. The performance is above reproach. It is beautifully balanced, with a uniformity of tone that one could argue is brought about as much by genetics as training. The family Adkins plays with powerfully expressed emotion, deep rich sonority and with a technical perfection found in only the rarest of ensembles.

Frank Bridge, the irascible teacher of the young Benjamin Britten is sadly under-recognized as a composer in his own right. An excellent violist, Bridge played in various chamber ensembles, which led to his composing a number of works. He was also a superb conductor, and was known for his ability to quickly learn even the most difficult scores. His early compositions are in the typical English pastoral vein. His main influences are his teacher Charles Villiers Stanford, and naturally Brahms as an extension of Stanford. After the disaster of the First World War, his style changed dramatically, losing him the support of the critics, and making it considerably more difficult to get his music heard.

Once again, the ensemble delivers a rich atmospheric performance of a work that is most deserving of a wider audience. In particular, Christopher Adkinsí resonant cello sound provides a firm anchor for the rhapsodic playing of the piano and upper strings. This is a most elegant work, played with consummate style and ease.

Brahmsí last piano quartet was born from the anguish of difficult times. In 1854 his close friend and patron Robert Schumann had just attempted suicide and was confined to an institution. Brahms rushed to Düsseldorf to render what aid he could to Schumannís family. In the process he found himself hopelessly and impossibly in love with Schumannís wife Clara. Out of these troubles, Brahms began work on a piano quartet. Although it would take some twenty years and two other works in the same genre to finally come to completion, this dramatic work is thought to be a testament to his devotion to Clara. It was begun in the middle 1850s.

Once again, the Adkinses deliver a powerfully molded and emotionally-charged performance. There is no note out of place, no detail left undiscovered. These musicians carefully think out the ebb and flow of intensity and reflection. The esprit de corps of the playing is a wonder to behold ... or hear.

The Adkins are an ensemble certain to take a prominent place on the international stage given the proper climate and exposure. This recording is a superb place for them to start. Program notes by Alis Dickinson Adkins are superb, and the production values of this recording are world class. This is a must-have for all lovers of chamber music. In this group, we have found new stars in the musical firmament. If Mr. Briley continues to compose music of this quality and force, then the future of art music has just gotten brighter.

Kevin Sutton


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