The Ying Quartet, a U.S. group in residence at the Eastman School of Music in New York state, has a reputation for fresh programming in the often moribund string quartet field, and this release is no exception. It contains possibly the most familiar of all American quartets, albeit one usually played by an orchestra and shorn of its surrounding movements: the Molto adagio movement of the String Quartet, Op. 11, of Samuel Barber, better known as the Adagio for strings. The Ying Quartet is not the only group to play the original version, but it is the only one to also include Barber's original finale to the piece, which he later rejected and replaced with the current finale, a small bit of music closely related to the opening movement. The effect of that is to elevate the Adagio to full prominence, but quite a few quartets in the work's early years played the first version, and it's an exuberant finish that casts a new hue onto the Adagio. Both versions are included here, so anyone with programming capability can compare the two; the Ying's reading of the Adagio itself seems affected by the presence of the new finale; it's an unusually tense, un-transcendent version. Elsewhere there's the thoroughly neo-classic, rarely heard, and entirely delightful Serenade for string quartet, Op. 1, of Barber, as well as his familiar setting of Dover Beach, a quartet and piano quintet by Howard Hanson that give unusual taste of his Romantic but rigorous manner, and, most unusually of all, a transcription of Randall Thompson's Alleluia, a choral piece known by heart to anyone of a certain age who has sung in an American high school choir. Much of this music is unknown, and the inclusion of voice and piano along the way is difficult to pull off without seeming random, but this collection of American 20th-century Romanticism hangs together beautifully and lives up to its title. A superior release of American chamber music.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
Track Listing - Disc 1
|String Quartet, Op. 11|
|Serenade for String Quartet, Op. 1|
Track Listing - Disc 2