Brett Dean is not shy about revealing what his music is ‘about’. Whether inspired by certain individuals (as in Epitaphs), or by an ecological or human disaster (as in his String Quartet No. 1, on the now all too topical plight of refugees), Dean’s works are usually – perhaps invariably – driven by extra-musical narratives. Rather than tease out any innate structural puzzles or tensions, his music typically falls into short little dramatic narratives – no movement on this disc lasts as long as eight minutes, many of them rather less than five. The most obviously successful work here is Quartet No. 2, ‘And once I played Ophelia’, effectively a dramatic scena. Its soprano soloist is no mere extra voice (as in Schoenberg’s Second Quartet) but the leading protagonist. Allison Bell’s genuinely affecting performance is backed by the Doric Quartet’s expressionist scampering and sustained harmonies, the strings occasionally coming to the fore in the manner of a Schumann-style song postlude.
"A triumphant start to what heralds to be one of the best Shostakovich quartet cycles imaginable. (…) Highly recommended." 5/5 ~sa-cd.net
Vissarion Yakovlevich Shebalin (1902-1963) had written nine string quartets as well as a string trio (among the composer's most popular works). As in the case of, say, Myaskovsky (his professor of composition at the Moscow Conservatory), Kabalevsky, Shostakovich, and even Vainberg, chamber music became among Shebalin's chief oeuvres. His well-assured, well crated First Quartet (1924), like that of Kabalevsky's (1928), shows signs of Myaskovsky's influence in its melancholic …….Recommended, with every ounce of enthusiasm.David Anthony Hollingsworth @ Amazon.com
As a viola player and dedicated chamber musician, Sally Beamish has had ample opportunity to acquaint herself with the string quartet genre. The Beethoven C minor Quartet on this disc she first played when she was 14. Thirty years later, when commissioned by the Brodsky Quartet to write a work inspired by Beethoven's Op. 18, this is the one that caught her imagination. The result is String Quartet No.2, composed immediately after a visit to California in 2000. Inspired by two bridges – Golden Gate in San Francisco and a Californian rock formation called Natural Bridges – Beamish uses themes …….
The highly personal style of American composer Benjamin Lees lends his music the lofty grandeur and sardonic wit, not only of Shostakovich but also of the Cubist and Surrealist artists, all of whom he so admires. Lees, who also shares Britten’s refined sense of harmony, delights in contrasts and surprises, enthralling the listener at every turn from the lyrical to the burlesque, the romantic to the brusque. His fifth string quartet was chosen by Chamber Music America as one of its 101 Great Ensemble Works.
“Technically speaking the Emerson String Quartet are unimpeachable, with meticulous internal balance and intonation sustained at all times, remarkable tonal matching between the instruments and precision phrasing and dynamics. There is a beguiling transparency about their sound-world that allows every voice to register with the kind of resonance-free clarity . . . ” - International Record Review, London, July 2008