The San Francisco-based Del Sol String Quartet specializes in contemporary and twentieth century music from the Americas from Amy Beach to Julia Wolfe and many others in between. Its Other Minds release George Antheil: The Complete Works for String Quartet appears to be Del Sol's first recording for a concern other than its own label. Antheil's cycle of three numbered string quartets was first recorded as a unit by the Mondriaan Quartet for the Dutch Etcetera label back in the 1980s, and at the time were greeted with enthusiasm by Antheil's supporters. Nevertheless, these performances were cut, and Mondriaan's general approach (probably unwittingly) distorted Antheil's intentions. In preparing Antheil's three numbered quartets, his early and lyrical Lithuanian Nights and his totally unknown Six Little Pieces for String Quartet, Del Sol has taken especial care to review and compare all of the known printed and manuscript sources on these works. In doing so, Del Sol has managed to bring all of Antheil's string quartet music onto a single disc for the first time, as accurate to his initial ideas as possible, and utilizing original scores in lieu of Antheil's own ubiquitous second thoughts on such matters.
The music is fascinating: Antheil's approach to writing chamber music is completely unique, even as he references ideas from pieces not his own -- he once stated that in chamber music the composer is "naked" and has no place to hide. As in the string quartet cycles of Bartók and Schoenberg, all of these quartets reflect the specific stylistic realm in which Antheil was working when they were written, which is why the integrity of the score material is such an important issue. It makes the biggest difference in the Second Quartet "To Sylvia Beach with Love"; whereas the Mondriaan Quartet's recording is made from a revised score and reveals a sort of emotional ambivalence and distancing from its subject, the original is passionate, rich with ironic humor and tongue-in-cheek quotations from Romantic music such as Beethoven -- truly a "love letter." The Six Little Pieces for String Quartet are a real find; pithy, mysterious, and spectral miniatures that are cousins to the many movements in his Surrealist-inspired piano suite Les Femmes aux 100 Têtes.
For far too long, the work of George Antheil has suffered from a credibility gap, in part a consequence of things having little or nothing to do with his music, such as his "tell-all" autobiography Bad Boy of Music. The tremendous care that the Del Sol String Quartet has put into preparing the recording, and the extremely high artistic level of the performances themselves, results in an enchanting survey of Antheil's string quartet output that puts to shame all previous efforts and paves the way for a true understanding of Antheil's relevance and merit.