Silesian String Quartet


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DaCapo's getString is a compilation of string quartets and quartet movements by six Danish composers, none born before 1970 and the youngest in 1980. As Western music enters the second decade of the 21st century, there is some scuttlebutt that for the first time in history that Europe is actually behind the curve when it comes to forward developments, compared to the rest of the classical music composing world. This is a highly debatable point, but discs like getString might tend to confirm such a view; for these composers it seems that the whole "New Simplicity" movement in Denmark simply never happened and that late 20th century German models of composition are the hippest way to go. Annotator Niels Rosing-Schow tactfully only awards composer Christian Winther Christensen with the distinction of deriving inspiration from German composer Helmut Lachenmann. However, all of this quartet music seems to derive from Lachenmann's general approach; it's as though Lachenmann's 1972 quartet Gran Torso is the gift that keeps on giving among the young composers in Denmark. It is such a unifying concept among these compositions that it is impossible to tell the six composers apart, except for Morten Riis, whose five short contributions to the disc are interlaced between all of the others, noticeable as they all abruptly cut off.

The quartet here is the Silesian String Quartet, a veteran Polish group expert in contemporary music performance; it has also recorded works of Penderecki, Lutoslawski, Zygmunt Krauze, and performed all of this music without getting a hair out of place or a single bow hair unstrung. However, the element of surprise -- so critical in avant-garde music -- is completely lacking here, and one gets the feeling that the Silesians simply weren't much surprised by anything they saw on these pages. Those who are devotees of scraping string sounds; long stretches of inarticulate, barely audible are-they-playing-or-not passages; and do-it-yourself formal development schemes might find something here to entertain them. DaCapo's recording is clear and well balanced between the instruments, but a little too bright at louder volume and not so present at a more comfortable level. DaCapo's admirable intention was to deliver a disc of edgy, cutting-edge string quartet music, but instead this does not seem to represent so much a fresh school of composers so much as a communal Stockholm Syndrome for a style rapidly reaching fossilization. And it comes at a time when many followers of contemporary music are looking to turn the page, and not necessarily to this one.

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