The Adkins String Ensemble,
a remarkable group of siblings à
cordes, is a Texas treasure, which
along with pianist Edward Newman (related
to the family by marriage), are long
overdue for a place in the international
crown of musical glory. In this astounding
disc, the Adkins have produced one of
the finest recordings of chamber music
that has crossed my desk in some years.
The program opens with
a new work by American composer Douglas
Briley. The Quintet for a Healing
Nation was inspired by the events
of September 11, 2001. Briley wisely
avoids jumping on the flag-draped bandwagon,
which has since that awful day brought
about a flood of opportunistically patriotic
dreck from lesser composers. Instead,
he has created a most appealing and
substantial work, which, although clearly
akin to similar compositions by Elgar
and Fauré, is still quite original
in its approachability.
cliché, Mr. Briley leans toward
late-romanticism; painting large musical
canvasses with a broad brush in bold
colors. The performance is above reproach.
It is beautifully balanced, with a uniformity
of tone that one could argue is brought
about as much by genetics as training.
The family Adkins plays with powerfully
expressed emotion, deep rich sonority
and with a technical perfection found
in only the rarest of ensembles.
Frank Bridge, the irascible
teacher of the young Benjamin Britten
is sadly under-recognized as a composer
in his own right. An excellent violist,
Bridge played in various chamber ensembles,
which led to his composing a number
of works. He was also a superb conductor,
and was known for his ability to quickly
learn even the most difficult scores.
His early compositions are in the typical
English pastoral vein. His main influences
are his teacher Charles Villiers Stanford,
and naturally Brahms as an extension
of Stanford. After the disaster of the
First World War, his style changed dramatically,
losing him the support of the critics,
and making it considerably more difficult
to get his music heard.
Once again, the ensemble
delivers a rich atmospheric performance
of a work that is most deserving of
a wider audience. In particular, Christopher
Adkinsí resonant cello sound provides
a firm anchor for the rhapsodic playing
of the piano and upper strings. This
is a most elegant work, played with
consummate style and ease.
Brahmsí last piano
quartet was born from the anguish of
difficult times. In 1854 his close friend
and patron Robert Schumann had just
attempted suicide and was confined to
an institution. Brahms rushed to Düsseldorf
to render what aid he could to Schumannís
family. In the process he found himself
hopelessly and impossibly in love with
Schumannís wife Clara. Out of these
troubles, Brahms began work on a piano
quartet. Although it would take some
twenty years and two other works in
the same genre to finally come to completion,
this dramatic work is thought to be
a testament to his devotion to Clara.
It was begun in the middle 1850s.
Once again, the Adkinses
deliver a powerfully molded and emotionally-charged
performance. There is no note out of
place, no detail left undiscovered.
These musicians carefully think out
the ebb and flow of intensity and reflection.
The esprit de corps of the playing is
a wonder to behold ... or hear.
The Adkins are an ensemble
certain to take a prominent place on
the international stage given the proper
climate and exposure. This recording
is a superb place for them to start.
Program notes by Alis Dickinson Adkins
are superb, and the production values
of this recording are world class. This
is a must-have for all lovers of chamber
music. In this group, we have found
new stars in the musical firmament.
If Mr. Briley continues to compose music
of this quality and force, then the
future of art music has just gotten