American String Project

Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 4; Brahms: String Quartet No. 2

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The American String Project, a 15-member conductor-less string orchestra, is annually assembled by bassist and arranger Barry Lieberman. While the group does perform the standard repertoire for string orchestras (Tchaikovsky and Dvorák serenades, etc.), its recordings since 2006 have focused on Lieberman's arrangements of the string quartet literature for string orchestra. This 2009 installment includes Shostakovich's Fourth Quartet and Brahms' Second Quartet. At this point, listeners have a decision to make regarding the suitability of this album for their collections. If it's to hear a compelling, moving performance of either of these quartets, then the ASP may not satisfy. Taking music meant for four players and adding 11 more definitely has its drawbacks. Tone is rather muddy and indistinct, and to make up for that, tempos are often quite sluggish and unresponsive. Notes in the lower end of the ensemble (i.e., Lieberman on bass and the low register of the cellos) are consistently unclear, as is overall articulation throughout the ensemble. Intonation is occasionally problematic, but much improved over ASP's 2006 album. If, however, listeners are merely curious about what can be done by a skilled arranger, then this disc could still be worthwhile. To his credit, Lieberman neither changes nor adds any notes. As he puts it in his liner notes, he merely "expands" the existing score to accommodate the increased instrumentation. Whether or not Shostakovich and Brahms needed any "expanding" will be up to individual listeners.

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