Christopher ROUSE (b. 1949)
String Chamber Works
String Quartet No. 1 (1982) [16:30]
String Quartet No. 2 (1988) [21:13]
Compline for string quartet, flute, clarinet and harp (1996) [18:37]
Calder Quartet (Benjamin Jacobson (violin); Andrew Bulbrook (violin); Jonathan
Moerschel (viola); Eric Byers (cello)); Alicia Lee (clarinet); Sivan Magen
(harp); Daniel Alexander (flute)
rec. 13-15 November 2007, Performing Arts Center, Theater C, Purchase, NY.
E1 MUSIC KIC-CD-7752 [56:22]
The six movement First Quartet by Christopher Rouse was largely written
in 1981 - the year of the Bartok centenary - and is what the composer calls
a “conscious homage to that greatest of twentieth century quartet composers”.
It includes two movements bearing the title “Fantasma di Bartok”.
That said the work was also influenced by the violent death Anwar Sadat and
the composer assures us that “the important pitch material of the work” is
based on the initials of Sadat's name. It’s a work of serrated irritation,
fractious, single-minded, angry, unafraid of dissonance and fracture yet often
quiet. The final whispering Epilogo-Lento manages to be both moving
and deeply troubled. It was written in Rochester, New York on 7 June 1982 for
the Casella Quartet - in residence at the Eastman School with the Cleveland
The String Quartet No. 2 was completed in his native Baltimore in 1988.
It was commissioned by the Cleveland Quartet with funding from the Eastman
School. Dedicated to the people of the Soviet Union which is not to be taken
as “socio-political commentary in any way” (CR). It was written
after a tour of the USSR in 1987 with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. The
music, across three movements, is intensely tragic and has about it nothing
of the haranguing platform or the glaring stage. The example of Shostakovich
is certainly in the background here. The second movement takes us back to the
gripping fractious dissonance of Rouse’s First Quartet with short shreds
of lyrical tendrils here and there. The composer says that it “recalls
my Symphony No. 1 (1986) in some regards. This is the result of a personal
desire to communicate ultimately with listeners of all nationalities.” The
First Symphony can be heard on First Edition and on Bis.
The final and most recent work on the disc is the four-segment Compline - presented
across a single track. Scored for the same septet as Ravel’s Introduction
and Allegro it was written for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center
under the Koussevitzky Music Foundation in the Library of Congress. The dedication
is to the memory of Serge and Natalie Koussevitsky. The “title refers
to the seventh (and final) canonical hour in the Catholic church. As a result,
some may conclude that it is a religious work. However, what religiosity Compline may
contain is more observational than participatory, reminiscent perhaps of various
scores by Respighi in which religious elements are included” (CR). The
composer sees this works as a souvenir of his 1989 trip to Rome, “a city
I fell in love with instantly and that is, of course, dominated by the twin
cultures of the ancient Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic church … the
sound of bells is never far away.” The music is not lush. Across a schema
of connected fast-slow-fast-slow sections the strings provide a rocking minimalist
motoric ostinato while the wind instruments dive and soar. Next comes a very
slow idyllic-impressionist Reverenza. The ensuing fast section is returns
to that fast-rocking incessant ostinato with the woodwind all fluttering and
scurrying birdsong. This curves down a steadily stilling gradient into a peaceful
place of Ravelian impressionism, Silvestrov-style diaphony and plainchant.
The Calder who also work with Terry Riley are sympathetic collaborators in
this project which adds indispensably to the Rouse discography.
I quite liked the design but can only condemn the dense Dave Muller spider-web
that makes most of Rouse’s own programme note for the First Quartet quite
illegible. The quartet is dealt with well in the general note so no doubt I
am missing some edgy metaphor when I take such grave exception to this piece
of baleful innovation.
Rouse continues to carve out his own distinctive world separate from cliques
and style groups.
Rouse reviewed on MusicWeb International
Violin Concerto etc on Ondine
Trombone Concerto etc on Phoenix
Second Symphony on Telarc
First Symphony on Bis