Chiara String Quartet / Matmos

Jefferson Friedman: Quartets

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Jefferson Friedman, born in 1974, emerged in the first decade of the millennium as one of the most frequently performed and commissioned American composers of his generation. The Chiara Quartet commissioned Friedman's three quartets and records the second and third on this New Amsterdam disc, the first release devoted entirely to the composer's music. The Second Quartet is the more conventional in its structure and proportions, and it's a thoroughly engaging work, terrifically energetic and written with exceptional idiomatic mastery of the medium. The Third is more eccentrically proportioned and structured. It opens with a very brief, eerie introductory movement. The 18-minute central movement entitled "Act" has a dramatic trajectory that moves organically through a variety of moods including a mysterious opening, passages of manic propulsiveness, wrenchingly lyrical moments, and a furiously ecstatic conclusion. The Epilogue/Lullaby begins by echoing the mood of the introduction before subsiding into a sweetly melodic serenity. The Third Quartet was nominated for a 2011 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Composition, and its distinctiveness makes it easy to hear why it was given such recognition. Friedman wrote the quartets with the particular characteristics and strengths of the Chiara Quartet in mind and the group plays the dauntingly demanding music with great technical assurance, fervor, and understanding. It's no wonder, since the quartet has been playing them since it gave their premieres in 1999 and 2005, respectively. The album includes remixes of both quartets by the San Francisco-based electronic duo Matmos. The stellar sound is immediate and clean, with a lively, realistic ambience. The album should be of strong interest to fans of contemporary chamber music.

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