American String Project

Beethoven, Sarasate, Shostakovich: Works for strings

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The American String Project, a 15-member ensemble that bills itself as a "unique conductorless string orchestra," performs transcriptions (or "translations," as the group would call it) of works for smaller string ensembles, primarily the string quartet. Purists need read no further as there is no substitute for a string quartet performance of any of the works heard here, no matter how talented the ensemble. The group is made up of virtuoso soloists, concertmasters, and other exceptional artists from around the country. But as is so often the case, a group of virtuosos thrust together does not remotely guarantee an exceptional chamber music ensemble. The Beethoven Op. 18, No. 4 Quartet does not "translate" exceptionally well. The larger ensemble size makes this usually spry and shimmering work rather dull and muddy. Intonation is problematic, especially in the higher registers. The twelfth quartet of Shostakovich, whose eighth quartet is performed frequently as a work for string orchestra, makes the transition better. The greater number of musicians adds to the complexity of sound and depth of tone. Still, the group's performance is not always united, sound quality of the inner voices is often muddy, and intonation remains imprecise. Regrettably, this album is not a shining example of quality chamber music.

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