Cypress String Quartet / Borromeo String Quartet / Stephen Salters

Elena Ruehr: Six String Quartets

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Michigan-born American composer Elena Ruehr takes eclecticism to new lengths: her press materials accurately promise influences from Pérotin, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Dvorák, Schoenberg, and jazz, and there are sounds of Indonesian gamelan music, Indian classical traditions, and various African and Latin American folk musics on top of that. It's hard to know what to make of the assertion that "Ruehr is a devotee of 12-tone techniques and minimalist methods; they go hand in hand." That's certainly not a position to which either the minimalists or the 12-tone composers would assent (one thinks of the self-description of Milton Babbitt, one of Ruehr's teachers, as a "maximalist"). Yet Ruehr generally avoids blank pastiche. Each work has a consistent stylistic universe, and the string quartet form, especially, anchors the diversity in classical forms. The appeal of these works, in fact, often lies in the tension between the string quartet medium and the variety of musical references. Some of these recordings, mostly by the composer's champions the Cypress String Quartet, were made in the past, but there's an argument for hearing all six quartets together and getting the full range of possibilities. On top of this, Ruehr offers extramusical programs or ideas that are vividly realized in sound. Sample the "Carmen Studies Grammar" movement of the String Quartet No. 5, with its mixture of Asian stringed instruments and really ravishing melody; the quartet as a whole takes a novel by Ann Patchett for its program. The String Quartet No. 4 responded to a Cypress commission for a response to Mozart's String Quartet in C major, K. 465 ("Dissonance") and Beethoven's String Quartet in C major, Op. 59, No. 3. Avie remasters these various recorded sources into a convincing whole. This is a recording especially commended to string performers: any of these six works could enliven a string quartet concert.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
String Quartet No. 5 (Bel Canto)
1 01:16
2 01:04
3 02:37
4 01:39
5 00:48
6 02:54
7 02:56
8 01:34
9 01:14
10 10:24
String Quartet No. 3
11 03:54
12 08:55
13 04:12
14 06:34
String Quartet No. 1: Four Pieces for String Quartet
15 07:39
16 03:34
17 05:26
18 04:08
blue highlight denotes track pick