Illuminations / Avalon String Quartet

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The Avalon String Quartet, “a remarkably fine ensemble” (The Strad), makes its Cedille Records debut with an irresistible and richly varied program of captivating works...

The Avalon String Quartet, “a remarkably fine ensemble” (The Strad), makes its Cedille Records debut with an irresistible and richly varied program of captivating works by Claude Debussy, Benjamin Britten, Osvaldo Golijov, and rising American composer Stacy Garrop. The ensemble presents the world-premiere recording of Garrop’s String Quartet No. 4: Illuminations, a tantalizing, Pictures at an Exhibition-style tour of spectacular illustrations from an ornate medieval manuscript. Debussy’s lush, exotic String Quartet in G minor unfolds through iridescent quasi-orchestral textures. Golijov’s lyrical, deeply moving Tenebrae (Latin for “shadows”), written for the Kronos Quartet, pays tender tribute to the earth, depicted in its remote celestial beauty, haunted by undertones of human discord. Britten’s youthful, energetic Three Divertimenti and Alla Marcia are alluring, rarely recorded studies in inventiveness and perpetual motion.

The Avalon is quartet-in-residence at the Northern Illinois University School of Music. “…an ensemble that invites you — ears, mind, and spirit — into its music.” (Chicago Tribune)


The folks at Cedille seem to have mastered the art of putting together classical music collections that make good musical sense. Debussy’s String Quartet is, of course, standard fare, and it usually appears in tandem with the Ravel and something else French. Not here. Instead, we have two Britten rarities, the entertaining Three Divertimenti and the lone Alla Marcia (the first of the Divertimenti is also a march, so you can see the logic), a self-described “Pictures at an Exhibition” type piece by Stacy Garrop, and a moving conclusion in the form of Osvaldo Golijov’s single-movement Tenebrae. The entire program provides consistently interesting and entertaining continuous listening, and the sonics are drop-dead gorgeous.

So, for that matter, is the playing of the Avalon String Quartet. The group’s corporate sonority is warm and mellow, but with just a touch of “rosin” in the tone. They attack rhythmic moments such as the scherzo of the Debussy, the Burlesque and the marches in the Britten pieces, and Garrop’s musically impossibly named “Mouth of Hell” with plenty of guts and precision, but no unpleasant hardness in the tone. The slow music is simply luminous. I am not generally a fan of pseudo-religious programmatic stuff such as Garrop offers here, but it’s awfully well done, and the booklet provides well-produced, full-color reproductions of the illustrations from the late medieval Book of Hours that Garrop took as her inspiration. They are exquisite, as is much of Garrop’s writing more generally.

Here, in short, is another excellent program that chamber music fans looking to venture off the beaten path will surely relish.

- (10/10)

Product Description:

  • Release Date: August 14, 2015

  • UPC: 735131915625

  • Catalog Number: CDR 156

  • Label: Cedille

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Period: 20th Century, Contemporary

  • Composer: Benjamin Britten, Claude Debussy, Osvaldo Golijov, Stacy Garrop

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Avalon String Quartet