Kreutzer Quartet

Northern Lights: String Quartets by John Casken, Robert Saxton, Judith Weir

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The cover of this release is uninformative. The Northern Lights title and accompanying imagery suggest examples of the abundant Scandinavian influence in British music, or at the very least composers from the northern British Isles. Neither is really true, and the cover appears to be a purely commercial concept aimed at broadening the appeal of a rather specialized disc. The contents are accurately described as British string quartets, and in fact they're all British string quartets of the 1990s, by composers with a greater or lesser degree of academic background. The audience interested in such a thing may find this a stimulating program. The two outer works by John Casken and Robert Saxton are rooted in the dissonant language that traces itself back ultimately to Alban Berg, but they add distinctive flavors: jazz in Casken's case and viol music in Saxton's in the work's impressively sustained central slow movement. These two pieces frame the entirely different String Quartet of Judith Weir, a sort of distillation of Britten's tonality down to minimal gestures. The Kreutzer Quartet is obviously comfortable with the repertory, and the engineering is a notch above what is often heard in discs from the university milieu.

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