Barber, Ives: String Quartet - String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2 / Escher String Quartet
Previous releases from the New York-based Escher Quartet include an acclaimed set of Mendelsohn’s six string quartets as well as an album with works by Dvorák, Tchaikovsky and Borodin. For their latest offering the members have looked closer to home, however, choosing to combine the quartets by Samuel Barber and Charles Ives. The disc opens with Barber’s String Quartet in B minor, containing the music for which the composer remains best-known: the second movement which he two years later expanded into Adagio for Strings. Recognizing its potential already while composing it, Barber described the piece as ‘a knock-out’ – which made it all the more difficult to come up with a third movement worthy to follow it. In the end he decided to make the quartet a two-movement work, but the Eschers have here included the lively third movement that the composer discarded, offering the opportunity to hear the work as it was once planned. Barber is followed by the two full-scale quartets by Charles Ives, as well as a brief Scherzo. Like many other compositions by Ives, his First Quartet makes extensive use of revival and gospel hymns, quoting them in all four movements in a highly accessible tonal idiom. Far more challenging, the Second Quartet is a portrayal of ‘four men / who converse, discuss, argue ... fight, shake hands, shut up / then walk up the mountainside to view the firmament’ – a programme which invites a liberal use of dissonance, but also – towards the end – a particularly fulfilling resolution.
Here's a nifty album of American chamber music that works on several levels. The Escher String Quartet offers a crisp reading of Barber's quartet as a whole that does not overdo the sentiment in the Adagio. There are also clear readings of Charles Ives' two string quartets, one broadly tonal, one conceptual and modern. So, a good choice for listeners wanting to broaden their appreciation of Barber and Ives, but the album also has much to offer those who have thought deeply about these composers. There is also a welcome performance of one of Ives' bracingly humorous Three Pieces for String Quartet, the second piece, "Hold Your Own!" In short, there is something for almost everyone in this fine release.
– AllMusicGuide.com (James Manheim)
Release Date: August 06, 2021
Catalog Number: BIS-2360
Number of Discs: 1
Composer: Charles Ives, Samuel Barber
Orchestra/Ensemble: Escher String Quartet