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David L. POST (b.1949)
String Quartet no.2 (2001) [20:54]
String Quartet no.3 (2003) [20:22]
String Quartet no.4 'Three Photographs of Abelardo Morell' (2005) [11:49]
Fantasia on a Virtual Choral (2003) [6:50]
Hawthorne String Quartet: (Ronan Lefkowitz (violin); Si-Jing Huang (violin); Mark Ludwig (viola); Sato Knudsen (cello))
rec. Prague, September 2007; November 2002 [Quartet no.2]; September 2004 [Quartet no.3]. DDD
NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559661 [59:54]

Experience Classicsonline

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 thrilling.

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' badge.

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