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Kirchner String Quartets 1 - 4 Complete

Orion String Quartet
Albany Records
[Troy 1030, 64 mins]

Quartet for Strings no 1 1949
Quartet for Strings no 2 1958
Quartet For Strings no 3 1966
Quartet for Strings no 4 2006

[illustration, Orion Quartet with Leon Kirchner]

Leon Kirchner (b. 1919) composer, pianist and distinguished conductor, still active in his late 80s, spans the period from his teachers Bloch, Sessions and, most importantly Schoenberg.

As is the case with so many Americans, he does not seem to have made much of a mark in England, and but for the visit of this quartet to London's new South Place concert venue, he might have escaped our notice still longer.

These compact quartets are fresh sounding, whether from fifty years ago or very recently, and are warmly recommended.

The performances sound authorative, and they are well described in allen Shawn's notes. Apparent early influences are Bartok and Berg; if you like their chamber music you will enjoy these. The third embraces computer sources "pitting hypersensitive quartet writing against disruptive electronic passages". Kirchner likes his movements to play continuously, and here the Third Quartet passes into the Fourth (written when he was 87) without pause, forsaking electronics for string music of youthful vitality and many surprises.

Exciting music which I put straight onto my iPod for more frequent listening.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Beethoven String Quartets Op 59 - 135 [Koch KIC 7681 & 7683]

Two boxes of the Orion String Quartet's Beeethoven Quartets (Koch) have been received, the mid-period and late quartets.

Sampling them has confirmed that this is yet another fine cycle. It is interesting for the sharing of the leading desk between the two brothers Daniel & Todd Phillips. As noted as they began their London cycle at Kings Place, younger brother Daniel is more extrovert, and his E string tends to produce some ugly, strident sounds sometimes. Todd is more inward, and I have preferred some of the movements where he is in charge without seeming to be.

It will be interesting to compare this set with another awaited in the near future.

I have been able to sample the Wihans live recordings at Prague during their recent cycle at Blackheath. Memory persuades me that they take some of the fast movements faster than do the Orions, they are constantly moving forward towards the next destination. But both groups find depth in the slow movements and are technically impeccable or nearly so.

You'll be fairly safe with either of them as a change from the classic cycles you already have...