This latest entry in the monumental Naxos
series is a somewhat belated follow-up to a
collection of Jennifer Higdon's chamber music released by Naxos in 2006.
That disc featured her Piano Trio and two works for string quartet (8.559298
- see review
This latest comes with a rummy album title: Higdon's 'early' chamber
works somehow include some she wrote little over a decade ago, around
the age of forty. Moreover, Voices
from the earlier release predates
two or three of those here by several years, as does Legacy
her single contribution to a more recent Naxos anthology of short American
works for violin and piano (8.559662).
Higdon rightly won a Pulitzer Prize in 2010 for her memorable Violin
Concerto - championed by dedicatee Hilary Hahn and now available on
Deutsche Grammophon (4778777) - but the fact that her Percussion Concerto
had the previous year won a Grammy Award, as dished out by international
music industry brass, gives some idea as to the degree to which her
music has wide, almost democratic appeal, especially in the USA. The
gentle lyricism of Legacy
(mentioned above) is one aspect of
her approachability, whilst the beat-heavy, film-music-like introduction
to Dark Wood
- the like of which also turns up in two unmissable
chamber works released by Cedille Records, Zaka
and String Poetic
(CDR 90000 103) - reveals another.
On the other hand, it is fair to say that even nods to minimalism are
quickly contextualised in more sophisticated art music discourse that
could well catch the fair-weather listener unawares. Some works, like
the early String Trio and the Viola Sonata, are a more exigent, more
'European' listen from beginning to end. That makes starting off the
programme with Higdon's arrangement of the folk hymn-tune 'Amazing
' (or 'New Britain
', to be precise) a good idea, getting
listeners of all persuasions in the mood for the more intricate - though
never unmelodious - fare that follows.
In twos, threes and fours the Serafin Quartet perform in all five recordings,
and Higdon is quick to point up the value of their contribution in her
notes. The Serafins' debut CD (for Centaur) only came out in 2010, and
somewhat ironically, two members have moved on since the present recording,
with Esme Allen-Creighton the new violist and Lisa Vaupel new violin.
Yet there is still plenty of experience in their line-up, which translates
here to a poised, professional reading. The Serafins are especially
attractive in the al fresco Sky Quartet
, which gets its name,
as the CD cover suggests, from the heavens above Colorado.
Sound quality is good, although the Serafin members are perhaps a little
too closely miked - certainly their breathing is frequently audible,
Molly Carr in the Viola Sonata especially. Higdon's own notes on her
works are fairly brief but informative. The introductory paragraph -
unauthored, but by the Serafin Quartet? - is hagiographic: "Jennifer
[is] now one of the most influential composers in America, if not the
world. [...] each piece is masterful, compelling and uniquely Higdon.
[...] It has been an honor to work with a composer of such immense talent
and warm personality". Listeners who know enough of her music do not
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