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Four American Quartets
Ralph EVANS (b. 1953)
String Quartet No. 1 (1995) [15:02]
Philip GLASS (b. 1937)
String Quartet No. 2 Company (1983) [8:51]
George ANTHEIL (1900-1959)
String Quartet No. 3 (1948) [18:16]
Bernard HERRMANN (1911-1975)
Echoes for string quartet (1965) [20:17]
Fine Arts Quartet
rec. 17-19 March 2007, Il Bagno Konzertgalerie, Steinfurt, Germany. DDD
NAXOS 8.559354 [62:27]
Experience Classicsonline

Here are four string quartets by American composers, all vivid and in diverse styles.

Ralph Evans is the leader of the Fine Arts Quartet. He wrote most of his String Quartet No. 1 in 1966-8 then laid it to one side, only completing it in 1995. It is in four movements of which the first is shot through with determination and irony in a manner that had me thinking of Weigl and Zemlinsky. For all its occasionally spiky energy this is essentially heartfelt tonal writing with a feint dusting of dissonance.

The Glass work may well be familiar if you have heard his orchestral score for Company. It is derived from music he wrote for Samuel Beckett's prose poem of that name. The four movements are very short and are lit by the usual flight and propulsion. The second and fourth movements are classic chaffing Glass – exciting and ingratiating.

The four movement Antheil work is a surprise. It is very close in style to Dvořák in ebullience of expression and in open air poetry. In the last movement there is a spray of wrong-note flavour that assures you that this is not a long lost work by a Bohemian romantic. The effect is very entertaining and appealing. You might think about this as if it had come from the pen of E.J. Moeran but caught in a mood when he wanted to pastiche the Dvořák of the American Quartet. That said, the finale has one or two sickle-edged ‘danses macabres’ that also suggest Shostakovich.

Bernard Herrmann's string quartet Echoes began life as a ballet given by the Royal Ballet in 1971. It is in Herrmann's most potently downbeat mood - at first really gloomy and soon dimly but irresistibly lit by English melancholia. It at times naturally prompts thoughts of Psycho and Marnie. There is little sun in this music; clouds scud across gun-metal skies or fill the heavens with the covenant of rain.

Rob Barnett


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