Escher String Quartet

Dvořák: American Quartet; Tchaikovsky: Quartet No. 1; Borodin: Quartet No. 2

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The Escher String Quartet, of U.S. origin, has been taking Europe by storm, becoming BBC New Generation artists and then getting signed to the roster of Sweden's BIS label, not heavily stocked with American artists. Yes, they are named for M.C. Escher, and yes, they have a hard-edged, abstract, intricate sound that you might liken to that of the work of that Dutch artist. You can find lighter, more folk-like readings of the Dvorak String Quartet in F major, Op. 96 ("American"), but in the Beethovenian finale of the Borodin String Quartet No. 2 in D major, the Escher has a tough, tense sound that really demands to be heard. There are plenty of other recordings of all three of these works, but not so many of all three together. This is perhaps the Escher's most significant contribution. The three quartets tend to get joined with other works by the composer of each, but the works have a lot to say to each other: all are essentially non-nationalist works (even if you accept the contention that the "American" quartet is more Czech than American) in which the composer had to find a path that recognized national influences. The popularity of each piece acquires new resonances here, and the use by BIS of the Reitstadel Neumarkt, previously cultivated by the audiophile MDG label, is also notable. Recommended, especially for those who feel their knowledge of these familiar repertory works is adequate.

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