Insistence by Naxos that pretty much all the American music
it issues goes under the "American Classics" rubric
is vexatious, to say the least. Though the title is often appropriate,
as when featuring the key works of Copland, Ives or Carter,
but in the case of very late 20th century and 21st century music,
it is a double misnomer - for one, because the music is too
recent for that accolade to make any sense, and secondly, the
music is sometimes not really good enough.
Occasionally, however, the music is so immediately and obviously
excellent that there is no question of waiting to see - and
that is the case here. David Post may be a practising clinical
psychologist, but he is also, on the evidence of this disc,
a remarkable composer - not only inventive and technically capable,
but also a superb communicator. Anyone fond of the quartets
of composers ranging from George Antheil to Walter Piston, or,
outside the US, from Bohuslav Martinu to David Matthews, will
surely be thrilled to discover any of these works.
The disc opens with the String Quartet no.2, which
was commissioned by the Martinu Quartet, who gave its world
première performance in Prague in 2002. Since then the Hawthorne
Quartet have made it their own, having given the American première
later the same year. Traditionally structured - moderato first
movement, followed by a scherzo, slow movement and allegro finale
- the quartet has a traditional mid-20th century feel to it
too, despite the modern idiom. The scherzo and finale are particularly
The String Quartet no.4, 'Three Photographs of Abelardo Morell'
was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Morell is a Cuban émigré
of Post's generation. Post wrote a movement for each of three
chosen photos, all thoughtfully reproduced by Naxos in the booklet,
albeit in black and white. The three photographs/movements are
entitled: 'Camera Obscura Image of Brookline View in Brady's
Room', 'Pietà by El Greco' (a photo of an open book, and shortened
to 'Book: Pietà' by Post) and 'Map in Sink' - literally a picture
of a map in a wash-sink. Not obvious material for a string quartet,
and the movements are indeed fairly short, yet the results are
outstanding - imaginative, evocative, warm - and quite deserving
of that nomination.
The final piece on the disc is the String Quartet no.3, a
single-movement work, though in four sections with fairly traditional
tempo markings. This is the most memorable of three memorable
quartets, and also the most melancholic, with light-hearted
and wistful passages interwoven. The fading to nothing at the
very end, beautifully controlled by the Hawthornes, strikes
a heart-rending note.
The Fantasia on a Virtual Choral was inspired by Josef
Suk's ‘Meditation on the Old Czech Chorale 'St Wenceslas'’ for
string quartet. 'Virtual' refers to the idea that the chorale
elements do not coalesce until the very end of the piece; before
that there are only "swirling bits and pieces" of
it, in the composer's words. Less profound than the quartets
as might be expected, this is nonetheless an attractive work.
Even though the recordings were made over a period of five years,
sound quality is consistently very good, though in a few spots
a very low rumbling of distant traffic can be heard. A minor
quibble is that the CD is a trifle on the short side - no room
for String Quartet no.1?
Rather curiously, the Hawthorne Quartet are named after the
19th century novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, but there is nothing
puritanical about their playing, which is always wholehearted
and expressive, not to mention expertly intonated.
David Post writes in the liner-notes that "the string quartet
has always seemed to me to be the pinnacle of musical expression."
His three quartets are far more than a modest contribution to
the genre, and are more than worthy of the 'American Classics'