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George ROCHBERG (b. 1917)
CD 1
String Quartet No. 3 (1972) [47:22]
String Quartet No. 4 (1977) [28:39]
CD 2
String Quartet No. 5 (1978) [26:39]
String Quartet No. 6 (1978) [32:44]
Concord String Quartet: (Mark Sokol (violin 1); Andrew Jennings (violin 2); John Kochanowski (viola); Norman Fischer (cello))
rec. 1970s, New York. ADD
first issued on LP as Nonesuch H 71283 (3); RCA ARL2-4198 (4-6). ADD
NEW WORLD 80551-2 [76:01 + 59:23]

Experience Classicsonline



 
George Rochberg is an astonishing composer whose importance is only slowly dawning on the world.
 
The son of immigrant Ukrainian Jews who arrived in the USA in 1913, Rochberg saw action in the Normandy invasion in 1944 where he was wounded. He also participated in the relief of American forces embattled during Hitler's last major offensive in the Ardennes.
 
Scarred by the destruction he had witnessed after his discharge he dedicated himself to a life of musical creativity. He studied with Luigi Dallapiccola and won many awards. He embraced the 12 tone expressive palette completely. The death of his son due to a brain tumour in 1964 after four years of illness left him and his wife the writer Gene Rosenfeld struggling to come to some sort of terms with the tragedy. The struggle and the apotheosis is in part reflected in these four string quartets. They were written for the Concord Quartet who were in residence at Dartmouth College . The Quartet No. 3 was premiered at Alice Tully Hall, New York in 1972. It is a work of dramatic extremes. There’s a Introduzione and Fantasia where a mordant assault is pressed home in thunder and shatter. Then comes a deeply moving Schubertian set of Variations. This is the antithesis of the first movement's impulsive mad-cap attack. The music reaches back across the centuries and piercingly and poignantly holds the listener in an emotional grip that can easily draw tears, such is its passion and sorrow. It plumbs the depths of Beethoven's last quartets and the greatest Schubert examples. You would be unlikely to guess anyone born in 1918 if you heard this piece without foreknowledge. The buzzing and thunderous attack of the first movement returns with more Schoenbergian dissonance in the March and Finale. In this quartet one is perhaps closest to the aweful tragedy that left the composer and his wife bereft. There's a Bartókian fury about this writing - fury in the sense of trying to find a target for revenge. It’s an exhausting listening experience even if the composer in the midst of fury sends you into becalmed and warmly comforted and comforting Schubertian waters as he does at 3:47 and 7:12 in track 3. Some of the writing is of such tenderness and loving kindness one is reminded of the First Quartet by Bedrich Smetana. The half-lights of the final seven minutes of the last movement strangely recall at times a sort of twilit walk to the Paradise Garden before the slashing attack and snarl of the first movement returns. This is a most eloquent yet searingly private work. This work registered with the Concord with such power that in 1976 they commissioned from Rochberg three more quartets. These he worked on simultaneously and they were premiered by the Concord between 1977 and 1979. The other three quartets are shorter - either side of the 30 minute mark. I will mention the Fourth in partiocular. It has, as buttresses, two substantial assaulting and dissonant Fantasias - the first subtitled Ironico. They lean in towards a Fuga movement of touching Schubertian emotionalism. This is followed by a Serenade of changeable disposition: ochre dissonance and comforting slowly sidling motion. The final Fantasia (Serioso) proceeds in a Bergian shimmer cross-cut with emotional squalls that fade as soon as they assert themselves.
 
There is a superbly lucid note from Michael Linton that both informs with precision and touches off emotional reactions in the listener.
 
These two discs remind us what a masterly quartet were the Concord. They were formed in 1971 and went on to perform quartets by Lukas Foss, Ben Johnston and Jacob Druckman.
 
Every aspect of the New World product proclaims quality and serious intent as if we had not gathered that already from a company prepared to seek out 1970s analogue recordings and treat them and us to the best advocacy, artistic and technical, that can be found.
 
The recordings are stunning. That they are in analogue means nothing. They are resonant, full of subtlety and visceral impact.
 
New World did great work in securing the rights for this issue from Nonesuch and RCA BMG. They will forgive me, I hope, for asking whether they could do the same with CBS-Sony and reissue Ruggles’ complete orchestral works (Buffalo Phil/Tilson Thomas circa 1973 2 LP set).
 
Four grand and deeply moving string quartets. Their power may surprise you in ways you had not expected.
 
Rob Barnett
 
 


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