New Zealand String Quartet

Asian Music for String Quartet

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The string quartet has been a popular medium among Asian composers. It can accomplish multiple goals: duplicating the sound of plucked stringed instruments in traditional Asian textures, providing a sort of Western template off of which to bounce Asian modes of expression, and more. This collection of pieces is played by the New Zealand String Quartet, which has had several of them in its repertoire for quite a while; they are confident, sharp performances. While this certainly doesn't exhaust the Asian quartet repertoire, it offers a good start to anyone looking for one, with an attractive variety of pieces. The highlight is Tan Dun's highly dissonant Eight Colors, for which "Second Viennese School tonalities" are promised; it doesn't quite go that far, but it's certainly among the least tonally oriented of this popular composer's works. It combines that atonal language with formal dramatic gestures reminiscent of Chinese opera. Zhou Long's opening Song of the Ch'in deploys the string quartet as a replica of the Chinese ch'in (or qin). Cambodian-American composer Chinary Ung's Spiral III is based on Cambodian motifs but also has a blues tinge, while Gao Ping's Bright Light and Cloud Shadows is a kind of Bartókian meditation on Chinese sounds. The little-heard A Way a Lone of Toru Takemitsu (the title is a quotation from James Joyce) is a fascinating, harmonically rich work that seems to slowly shift textures and to merge multiple perceptions into one. The music here is contemporary, free from stereotyped gesture, full of detail to be absorbed on multiple hearings, yet direct in its appeal. Only over-live church sound detracts from its appeal. A very strong release from the NZSQ.

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