Brentano String Quartet / Sarah Rothenberg

Tobias Picker: Invisible Lilacs

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The music of Tobias Picker is not easy to pin down to a particular style, method, or school of thought, but even at its most enigmatically modernist, it is usually accessible to attentive listeners. This album of four chamber works is an excellent introduction to Picker's sound world, as well as being a survey of a sufficiently long period to demonstrate the consistency of his approach over his career. The opening Nova, for piano quintet (1979), is highly energetic and densely chromatic, though its gestures are easy to grasp, and the overall feeling of the piece is open, energetic, and passionate. So, too, is the Sextet No. 2, "Halle's Ravine," (1976), which offers a more colorful mix of violin, oboe, clarinet, cello, piano, and percussion, along with its appealing interchanges of quick and slow music. Invisible Lilacs, for violin and piano (1991), offers a richer and darker side of Picker, and in some ways this is the most expressively hermetic and melodically angular piece on the disc, revealing little of Picker's lyrical neo-Romanticism. The Piano Quintet, "Live Oaks" (2011), is in six ambitious movements, and Picker's fast and active music propels the work forward with genuine excitement. The Tobias Picker Ensemble plays with assurance and complete understanding of every part, so there never seems to be an obscure passage or loose end. Tzadik's recording is quite close-up and resonant, so the musicians have great presence and clarity.

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