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Elena KATS-CHERNIN (b.1957)
Blue Silence: Complete Works for String Quartet
see track listing below review
Acacia Quartet (Lisa Stewart, Miyee Clohessy (violins), Stefan Duwe (viola), Anna Martin-Scrase (cello))
rec. Studios 301, Sydney, Australia, 13-14 December 2011; 22-25 May 2012. DDD
VEXATIONS840 840-1202 [42:34 + 44:02]

Is there a new regulation stipulating that any CD of Elena Kats-Chernin's music must bear the title 'Blue Silence'? This is the second in a couple of months. In fairness, the other is subtitled 'Australian music for cello and piano', and Kats-Chernin's Blue Silence was in fact her only work on that disc. That 'Blue Silence' was released by Tall Poppies (TP222, review) who have, along with fellow-Australian label ABC Classics, put out in recent times a fair amount of Kats-Chernin's music. It lends itself particularly well to multi-composer anthologies - snappy titles and brevity of statement among its very 21st-century attributes. In the post-modern way, indeed, her best-known work, the Eliza Aria (often erroneously listed as 'Eliza's Aria') entered the popular consciousness through a series of animated television ads for Lloyds Bank. It was subsequently elevated to 'earworm' status via the repetitious playlists of Classic FM.
 
At any rate, this particular 'Blue Silence', released on the internet label Vexations840 ("A mysterious organization dedicated to classical music at its greatest"), is a collection of twenty short works for string quartet, all bar two lasting only a few minutes. On grounds of length, therefore, there is nothing here to deter the casual listener. From a musical point of view there is still less. Kats-Chernin writes in a decidedly melodious, foot-tapping style, of which the Eliza Aria is wholly typical. A perusal of the titles is all it takes to identify the importance to her of colour and dance. The works sound in fact something like a cross between Ástor Piazzolla and Philip Glass - the poetry and colour of the former combined with the motoric-mesmeric qualities of the latter - yet more good-humoured and consistent than either. It is difficult to imagine music that is more listener-friendly, yet which does not insult the intelligence.
 
As it happens, few of these pieces were written specifically for the string quartet medium. Most are what Kats-Chernin refers to as "re-versions" of compositions originally for other chamber combinations or even theatre, or indeed of works by someone else, as in the suite taken from Bach's Notebook for Anna Magdalena.
 
These items amount to nothing more than Kats-Chernin's complete string quartet works thus far. She has not ruled out further pieces for this genre. Curiously, an album entitled 'Fast Blue Village' was released - vexatiously? - by Vexations840 only a few months previously, billed as the 'Complete Works for String Quartet, volume one' and performed by the Acacia Ensemble. The Ensemble has become a mere Quartet for this disc. Only formed in 2010, its four members come from a variety of backgrounds and countries. Kats-Chernin's music is not the most fiendish to play by a long chalk, but the Acacias are clean and tidy in their work, repaying the composer's confidence in their ability to communicate her pieces with a goodly amount of panache.
 
Sound quality is very good. Only two complaints, both minor: the fake reverberation added to the final chord of each work, and the occasionally noisy intakes of breath of one of the violinists, these going into overdrive in Luke's Painting and Kwong Song, where the sniffs seem to be beating time!
 
The accompanying booklet is slim, but the information supplied is good enough for most purposes, even if author Rosalind Appleby does lean towards hagiography: Kats-Chernin is "the superstar of Australian composers", a "beacon of success" whose "vivacious personality draws a crowd". It can be downloaded for free here. The timing of 17'00 given in the booklet for From Anna Magdalena's Notebook is wrong: it is actually 14:20. In fact, several tracks have wrong timings by a few seconds, most notably Drinking Song, given as 1:31, actual length 1:13. The biographical note on the Acacia Quartet contains the following crime against good usage: "is comprised of...".
 
Byzantion
Collected reviews and contact at artmusicreviews.co.uk

Track Listing
Fast Blue Village 2 (2006) [5:14]
Eliza Aria (2003) [3:18]
Moody Tango (2010) [3:06]
Mezmer (2010) [3:43]
Road to Harvest (2006) [4:21]
Kwong Song (2006) [3:36]
Luke's Painting (2007) [2:17]
Second Door on the Left [2:40]
From Anna Magdalena's Notebook (2006) [14:20]
Russian Rag [2:14]
Butterflying (2003) [3:49]
Pink-Breasted Robin [2:04]
Blue Silence (2006) [7:08]
Blue Rose (2001) [2:57]
Silver Suite [11:37]
Grotesk [2:09]
Drinking Song (1991-92) [1:31]
Charleston Noir [7:15]
Naive Waltz (1993) [1:40]
Slicked Back Tango [1:38]


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