Carducci String Quartet / Doric String Quartet / JACK Quartet / Guy Johnston

Bracing Change

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AllMusic Review by James Manheim

The contemporary string quartets (and a quintet) presented here aren't linked by anything other than having been commissioned by and premiered at London's Wigmore Hall, which has been doing its damndest to support new music. Three different ensembles perform, and the recordings were made at different times. The NMC label has forged them into a coherent program, however, with the two chromatic works at the beginning and end having unusual pictorial qualities in common, as well as the fact that Anthony Gilbert, composer of the final Haven of Mysteries, was the teacher of Simon Holt. Haven of Mysteries takes as its topic the rebuilding of Chartres Cathedral in 1194, and though you might not guess that listening to it cold, it adds something to the light shafts and walls that make up the texture. The short movement of Holt's 3rd Quartet have the titles "matins," "Wu Ping's nail house," "a ladder to the moon," "expensive delicate ship," "the foresaken cry," and "Night's mantle descends." Between these comes The weather of it, by Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy, now on the faculty at Princeton University. The title is extramusical too, referring to a remark by the librettist of Dennehy's opera The Last Hotel, who urged listeners not to focus on the linear meaning of the text, but rather on the aforementioned weather of it. The work is a good example of Dennehy's style, basically post-minimalist, with hints of Irish folk music, but as rigorous in content as the works of the other two composers. Recommended for those interested in new developments in the age-old string quartet genre.

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