American composer Christopher Rouse has been known for his large neo-Romantic orchestral scores, which make ideal use of the resources of a large symphonic organization. His style would seem difficult to translate to chamber dimensions, but the three works presented here by southern California's Calder Quartet -- string quartets, with the final Compline (1996) augmented by flute, clarinet, and harp -- are recognizably his. Fans of Rouse's orchestral music may find these quartets a bit more dissonant than the music they're used to, but Rouse's relationship to tradition is similar: the two string quartets, at least, draw closely on specific models and amplify them with big, visceral effects. This works best in the String Quartet No. 1, designated an homage to Bartók and certainly animated by motor rhythms in the same way. But Rouse simplifies the intervallic content (the work's variation structures, Bartókian in their outlines, are based on an open fifth) and gives the string players a real workout in which the Calder players do not flag. It's a great deal of fun, commended especially to string players. The models of the String Quartet No. 2 are more vague; Rouse wrote this work during a visit to the dissolving Soviet Union in 1987 and worked in motifs referring to various phases of the twentieth century Soviet tradition. The final Compline is a meditative souvenir of Rome, perhaps the least typical of Rouse of the three pieces but nicely sustained over its 18-minute single movement. The first quartet, from what is arguably the strongest period of Rouse's career, is worth the purchase price here, although the device of letting artist Dave Muller scrawl over Rouse's own notes to this work is pure self-indulgence.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim