Kronos Quartet

Peteris Vasks: String Quartet No. 4

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Peteris Vasks has contemplated the passing of the twentieth century -- its violence and tragedy balanced against its more benign aspects -- and made his String Quartet No. 4 a spiritual summary of the times. Yet the work's success can be judged without relying too much on the composer's subjective program. As pure music, the quartet is effective and striking in its contrasts. The Elegy, a pensive and austere opening, bears a strong resemblance to John Tavener's Last Sleep of the Virgin, especially in its chains of trills and subdued ambience. Toccata I is an aggressive blast of sharp chords and insistent staccato notes that struggle to break free of restraints. The changing textures and rising chromatic modulations of the Chorale make it the most fascinating movement since there are no overt clues to its ultimate resolution. Toccata II resumes the acid harmonies and fierce rhythms of the second movement, but the most interesting device is a sweeping group glissando in the penultimate measures, a startling gesture that is nonetheless perfect in its placement. The closing Meditation returns to the first movement's dark mood, but continues its reverie in a more openly lyrical manner. The sympathetic performance by Kronos is a significant factor in this recording's coherence and appeal.

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