Tired of Berg? Worn out by Bartók? Exhausted by Shostakovich? Are you looking for something contemporary in the way of string quartets but not for something that'll make you curse the day you were born? Try this disc by the Orion Quartet. It features one of America's pre-eminent string quartets performing three previously unrecorded works: a string quartet each by Chick Corea and John Harbison, plus a piano quintet by Marc Neikrug with the composer at the piano. Harbison's four-movement Quartet No. 4 has the composer's trademark combination of gently melancholy melodies and warmly post-tonal harmonies set in expansively intense structures. Corea's five-part work isn't called a string quartet, but rather The Adventures of Hippocrates, and while Corea won't divulge the meaning of his whimsical title, the work's music is light, airy, and, as befits the composer's jazz roots, energetically rhythmic. Neikrug's single-movement piano quintet is by far the most harmonically concentrated and rhythmically explosive work on the disc, but also the most melodically angular and emotionally draining. Still, with the Orion Quartet's brightly colored, sweetly toned, and brilliantly virtuosic performances, none of the works ever becomes overbearing and the whole effect is one of a cool breeze wafting through the trees on a summer evening. While chamber music fans looking for existential anguish are advised to try Schnittke, chamber music fans who just want to relax from the agony of existence will find much to enjoy here, particularly in Koch's clear, natural sound.
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AllMusic Review by James Leonard
|The Adventures of Hippocrates, for string quartet|
|String Quartet No. 4|