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String quartets:

Dvorak quartets complete

Emerson String Quartet
Old World- New World
Deutsche Grammophon 00289 477 8765

Here the Emerson’s dazzle with raucous energy and superb techniques. A brave feat considering how many recordings of Dvorak’s quartets are already out there; it is a real treat to be able to hear the complete set of his quartets played by one ensemble.

The rhythmic drive is particularly good in this recording- well suited to conveying Dvorak’s folk influences. These are performances full of contrast; the quartet excel at taking the listener through slavonic folk dances in the Quartet No. 10 to Viennese classicism in No. 11 and American spirituals and drumming in his Quintet in E flat major.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Philip Glass String Quartets Nos. 1-4
Carducci Quartet
Naxos 8.559636

This CD is simply hypnotic. Influenced by the Indian music of Ravi Shankar, the first quartet is a particularly interesting; quite unlike Glass’ other works in its dissonance.

The second quartet has to be my favourite; originally conceived as interludes for Beckett’s prose-poem, Company.

The Carducci is another quartet with plenty of rhythmic drive, coupled with a lush sound. The fourth quartet’s expansive grandeur is definitely made the most of. Emma Denton deserves a special mention for her underpinning of the ensemble, making a lovely rich sound on her cello.

With the second and third quartets being programmatic compositions, one wonders if watching/ hearing their associated works (Paul Schrader’s film about Yukiko Mishima and Beckett’s Company) would enhance the listeners experience.

Tommie Haglund Hymns to the Night

Voice with guitar, harp, and string quartet
Phono Suecia PSCD 184

Tommie Haglund’s CD ‘Hymns to the Night’ is full of dark music with philosophical and emotional depth; certainly not easy listening.

Hymns to the Night was originally a poem written by Novalis after the death of his betrothed, Sophie von Kuhn. Novalis both idealises Sophie in this poem and longs for his death to be reunited with his beloved; it is a deeply religious piece of writing.

I would certainly recommend getting hold of Novalis’ text before listening to Haglund’s work. Daughter of the voice is another heavy work, its lyrics are from Saint Bridgets Revelationes Coelestes; helpfully the words have been provided in the liner notes.

It is a composition exploring both the pain and the joy of Mary. The final piece To the Sunset Breeze is based on another literary work; a poem by Walt Whitman. A sunset breeze visits bringing joy to a man who is ‘old, alone, sick, weak-down, melted-worn with sweat’. Haglund beautifully depicts this with the unusual combination of guitar, harp, and string quartet; indeed he has a way with timbres and ringing resonances, the opening of Daughter of the Voice being particularly evocative.

Anna Michel
August 2010