György Ligeti was a member in good standing of the musical avant-garde of the mid-20th century, while Samuel Barber was, at the same time, one of the most prominent neo-Romantic composers. They would seem to be an odd couple on this 2013 release on ECM New Series, for Ligeti's two string quartets and Barber's Molto adagio from the String Quartet No. 2 (known in various arrangements as "Barber's Adagio") appear to come from opposing camps, if not different worlds. Yet the Keller Quartet demonstrates that there is not a huge gulf between these pieces, and that there are good reasons for placing Barber's placid elegy as a contrasting piece between Ligeti's more adventurous studies of string sonorities and extended effects. While some listeners will be fully prepared for the dissonant counterpoint and rough textures of Ligeti's String Quartet No. 1, Barber's Adagio works well as a kind of palate cleanser, and provides an opportunity to rest and take stock before advancing to the more agitated String Quartet No. 2. Even so, Ligeti's string quartets have their share of searching, introspective expressions, rather in the vein of the quartets of Béla Bartók, so listeners don't have far to jump to appreciate the choice of pieces. The Keller Quartet is certainly adept at playing both conventional, tonal music and more experimental, atonal music, and their performances are utterly convincing and beautiful. ECM's exceptional reproduction contributes to the attractiveness of the package, so this CD is an appealing presentation of works that set each other off admirably.
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AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|String Quartet, Op.11|
|String Quartet No. 2 (1968)|