R Murray SCHAFER (b.1933)
String Quartet no.1 (1970) [16:26]
String Quartet no.2, 'Waves' (1970) [17:22]
String Quartet no.4 (1988-89) [18:34]
String Quartet no.5, 'Rosalind' (1989) [17:16]
String Quartet no.3 (1981) [28:24]
String Quartet no.6, 'Parting Wild Horse's Mane' (1993) [18:02]
String Quartet no.7 (1998) [27:34]
Quatuor Molinari (Olga Ranzenhofer (violin I), Johannes Jansonius (violin II), David Quinn (viola),
Sylvie Lambert (cello)); Marie-Danielle Parent (soprano) (nos. 4 and 7)
rec. Eglise Saint-Augustin, Mirabel, Quebec, 14-17 December 1999 and 15-17 January 2000.
ATMA CLASSIQUE ACD22188 [69:38 + 56:51]
String Quartet no.9 (2005) [23:31]
String Quartet no.10, 'Winter Birds' (2005) [17:27]
String Quartet no.11 (2006) [24:19]
String Quartet no.12 (2012) [16:52]
*String Quartet no.8 (2000/20001) [22:24]
Quatuor Molinari (Olga Ranzenhofer (violin I), Frédéric Bednarz (violin II), Frédéric Lambert (viola), Pierre-Alain Bouvrette (cello)); *Johannes Jansonius (violin II), David Quinn (viola), Julie Trudeau (cello)
R Murray Shafer (narrator) (no.10)
rec. Eglise Saint-Augustin, Mirabel, Quebec, June 2012 and January 2013 (nos. 9-12); June 2002 (no.8). DDD
ATMA CLASSIQUE ACD22672 [65:17 + 39:16]
It has been a long wait for those who bought the Molinari Quartet's recording of Murray Schafer's first seven string quartets thirteen years ago. At the time of that release, Schafer was still working on his Eighth and it was only last year that he completed the Twelfth, finally giving the Molinaris and ATMA just about enough material for a second double-disc album.
The first bars of the First Quartet are enough for any listener to recognise that Schafer's music is not full of hummable tunes, whilst others may consider the police sirens in the Second an appropriate response to its 'offence' of atonality. On the first volume, the Seventh Quartet includes a part for obbligato soprano with echo effects, the Fourth an ethereal wordless soprano/violin 'overdub', the Third rhythmic vocalisations from the performers in the middle movement, and the Fifth requires the additional playing of crotales towards the end. For the latest batch Schafer in some respects steps up the experimentalism, with a pre-recorded Aeolian harp in the final movement of the Eleventh, pre-recorded children's voices in the Ninth and a narrator (Schafer himself) in the Tenth.
Yet whilst undoubtedly keen to try new things, even approaching eighty, Schafer does not shy from tonality or indeed lyricism, as many passages in the Fifth, dedicated to the wife of the Canadian businessman who commissioned the work, testify. In fact, encountering Schafer through the opening of the Ninth, with a child's voice singing wordlessly over an elegiac quartet accompaniment, may lead the listener momentarily to the conclusion that Schafer writes Hans Zimmer-style for the US film industry. What is in any case clear from these quartets dating right back to 1970 is that Schafer never set out to shock in a crash-bang-wallop, enfant terrible kind of way. For sure, there are drones and screeches and numerous non-quartet sound effects spanning the decades, but there is always a sense of narrative and extended periods spent in tonal soundscapes that would be recognised by the likes of Shostakovich.
Moreover, from the Chinese-coloured Eighth, the later quartets indicate a more audience-friendly composer. The chilly but melodic Tenth in particular is an ideal place to start listening to Schafer - even if the composer's reading of his own short poem is slightly stagy. In fact, anyone comfortable with the quartets of Schnittke - for which the Molinari Quartet's own recent recording for ATMA comes highly commended - should find even the more uncompromising material in Schafer's earlier works entirely accessible and, with appropriate commitment, enjoyable indeed.
True to form, the Molinari Quartet have helped greatly in the dissemination, such as it is, of these quartets since their formation in 1997. As Schafer explains in the booklet that accompanies the first volume: "In our culture it is rare for a performing group to adopt a composer, as the Molinari Quartet did when Olga Ranzenhofer called me on the telephone to say: 'We'd like to perform all your string quartets and we'd like you to write a new one for us.'" In her own preface Ranzenhofer writes that these works are "destined to remain in the string quartet repertoire for years to come", a reflection of the group's appreciation of the "sensitive and refined writing; pure, beautiful sonorities; powerful harmonies; pungently expressive dissonances; impetuous, energetic rhythms; fascinating transitions between episodes" that characterise Schafer's music. Unfortunately, his quartets have never been in the repertory of any but a few enterprising ensembles - among which the Molinaris are exemplary - that are prepared or in a financial position to try to extend the standard repertoire. How many quartets will even hear these performances, let alone be inspired to learn and programme any Schafer?
Only Ranzenhofer remains of the first-album line-up, incidentally: Frédéric Bednarz, Frédéric Lambert and Pierre-Alain Bouvrette have replaced Johannes Jansonius, David Quinn and Sylvie Lambert, the latter already replaced by Julie Trudeau for the recording of the Eighth. Nevertheless, the sound remains recognisable as that of the Molinari Quartet: strong, considered, expressive, technically superb.
ATMA's booklet notes in both cases are a paragon of clarity and detail, even providing excerpts from each of the scores in the earlier volume. This recording of the Eighth Quartet was previously released on ACD22201, which explains why it was recorded ten years before the rest of the album.
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Even Schafer’s more uncompromising material is entirely accessible and, with appropriate commitment, enjoyable.
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