Alexander Fiterstein / Tesla Quartet

Joy & Desolation

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The young Tesla Quartet, based in New York and originating at the Juilliard School, has had special success so far in Britain. You can see why, in a way: the pairing of Mozart and an early 20th century British work would be typical there, and for this recording with clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein, the group traveled to Britain to record at the acoustically famed Wyastone Estate Concert Hall. This album looks likely to repeat the critical success of its predecessors, and it's quite lovely. It's elegantly programmed: all the music is instrumental and abstract, but it lives up to the theme of Joy & Desolation announced by the title. The opening Clarinet Quintet in A major, K. 581, of Mozart is taken at slow tempi and tends just slightly to plod; the finale does not really deliver the promised "Joy." However, the Five Bagatelles, Op. 23, of Gerald Finzi, are gems. The work was originally for clarinet and piano and is effectively arranged here for clarinet and quartet by Christian Alexander. Finzi himself disparaged the work, complaining that it had earned him more money than his more serious pieces, but here the composer hit a simple, melancholy note that has ensured the work's continuing popularity, and the players here catch the mood perfectly. Sample the "Forlana," a delightful piece of neoclassicism that the booklet notes could have been inspired by Bach, Ravel, or both in its use of the form. John Corigliano's Soliloquy is not one of his more often performed works; the violin and clarinet inhabit separate worlds but reach a resigned coexistence in a work that certainly merits the "desolation" descriptor. It was inspired by the composer's father's death in 1975 and has a personal quality rare in Corigliano's work. Composer Carolina Heredia's Ius in Bello ("Law of War") reflects on contemporary developments in Venezuela. With the fine Wyastone sound, this is an evocative album of chamber music from a promising American group.

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