Smith Quartet

Michael Nyman: String Quartets 5 & 4 (Chamber Music, Vol. 3)

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Michael Nyman has emerged as the U.K.'s top minimalist, with a style that certainly drew inspiration from American composers but has become increasingly personal. Where a Glass or a Reich tends toward the monumental and the abstract, Nyman is more intimate and admits a touch of sentiment. He also retains classical movement contrasts even as individual movements are mostly concerned with texture and have only a vague tonal center. For some reason, Nyman has tended to focus on the reuse of preexisting material in the string quartet medium, and that's the case with the String Quartet No. 4, based on a solo violin piece called Yamamoto Perpetuo (composed for violinist Yohji Yamamoto). This work retains the original solo violin part intact and furnishes accompaniments for it. It may be intriguing for those who know the original work, but it tends to diminish the most appealing aspect of Nyman's music: his big, simple contrasts that do not come off as trite or derivative. This is what you get in the six-movement String Quartet No. 5 of 2011, which has the subtitle "Let's not make a song and dance out of this." As this suggests, the work hovers between melodic and dancelike movements without alighting on either of those configurations. It's consistently absorbing, and you could sample the dual-section movements for an idea. The Smith Quartet has a good deal of experience not only with Nyman, but with a wide range of new music in Britain, and they are ideal interpreters. Strong studio sound from Nyman's own MN label, finished off by Abbey Road mixing, is another draw. Recommended.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
String Quartet No. 5
1 3:18
2 3:45
3 3:20
4 3:15
5 4:21
6 4:36
String Quartet No. 4
7 3:19
8 3:32
9 2:28
10 6:16
11 3:26
12 4:08
13 4:00
14 2:29
15 4:26
16 2:47
17 2:47
18 2:52
blue highlight denotes track pick