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American Anthem
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
String Quartet, Op. 11 [21:38]
Serenade for String Quartet, Op. 1 [8:28]
Dover Beach, Op. 3 [8:08]
Howard HANSON (1896-1981)
String Quartet in one movement, Op. 23 [15:09]
Concerto da camera, Op. 7 [15:18]
Randall THOMPSON (1899-1984)
Alleluia (1940) arr. Ying Quartet [5:21]
Ying Quartet, Adam Neiman (piano - Concert da Camera); Randall Scarlata (baritone - Dover Beach)
rec. 15-17 May 2012, Sono Luminus, Boyce, Virginia, USA
Full text included for Dover Beach.

The disc comprises six American works played by the four siblings of the American Ying Quartet. Inspection reveals that the jewel case contains a separate Blu-ray disc which is audio only with no video component. Philip Ying explains: “The record label likes to use this technology to provide an additional version at greatly increased sampling rate than a regular CD, and also to allow for surround sound. So the idea is greater fidelity than a CD can capture.” 

Barber won the Prix de Rome in 1935 and it wasn’t long after that when he commenced his String Quartet. There can be few people who haven’t heard the version of its Molto adagio that Barber arranged in 1938 for string orchestra known as the much loved Adagio for Strings. Barber became dissatisfied with the third and final movement and eventually replaced it with a Molto allegro (Come prima) of less than half the length of the original. Here the Ying Quartet has also included the original third movement. The booklet notes claim this is a world première recording. It’s all very finely done with the Ying in spirited and characterful form. However, it doesn’t quite match the compelling and highly expressive 1990 New York City account from the Emerson String Quartet on Deutsche Grammophon 435 864-2 (c/w Ives String Quartets No. 1 and No. 2).
Barber was only eighteen when he wrote his Serenade for String Quartet, Op. 1 whilst still a student of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Lasting just over eight minutes the concise three movement Serenade is an attractive work if rather lacking in anything really memorable. The assured Ying nevertheless play it with considerable affection.
The brooding and atmospheric Dover Beach, Op. 3 (1931) for baritone and strings sets a short text by British poet Matthew Arnold. It’s another score from Barber’s student days. A baritone himself, Barber performed the score many times and actually recorded it himself. This intensely lyrical work is here given an excellent rendition by American baritone Randall Scarlata. He convincingly conveys the shifting shafts of light and the ebb and flow of the maritime imagery.
Next come two rarely heard works from the pen of Howard Hanson. The String Quartet, Op. 23 (1923) a single movement score lasting here just over fifteen minutes. I enjoyed the incisive tone of the Ying who skilfully reveal the range of Hanson’s contrasting moods. The Concerto da camera, Op. 7 is also cast in a single movement taking just over fifteen minutes here to play. An early work written in 1916/17 this version for string quartet and piano was completed in 1922. In the capable hands of the Ying and pianist Adam Neiman the work’s seriousness and intensity is splendidly underlined.
Randall Thompson’s Alleluia for unaccompanied SATB chorus was rapidly composed in 1940. Most likely inspired by the terrors of the war raging in Europe, Thompson wrote a rather restrained and reflective work not the joyous score that the commissioners were expecting. This splendid arrangement prepared by the Ying quartet radiates integrity. I did wonder if this is a first recording of this arrangement.  
There are some fascinating American scores here ranging from Barber’s world famous Adagio in the original version for string quartet to several rarely heard chamber scores that are well worth exploring. The sound is most acceptable being reasonably clear and balanced although I would have preferred a little more depth.
I thoroughly enjoyed this impressive disc greatly assisted by the assurance of the members of the Ying Quartet who are clearly committed advocates for this music of their home country.
Michael Cookson