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Grant Chu Covell
La Folia, March 2012

The Carducci bring freshness to well-worn Glass, tackling the first four as if Borodin or Brahms, reveling in the fundamentally expressive harmonies and deftly applying articulation in order to sustain interest. © 2012 La Folia Read complete review



Chris Waddington
The Times-Picayune (Nola.com), December 2010

If you’re a fan of Philip Glass, you’ve probably heard his string quartets in benchmark recordings by the Kronos Quartet, the group that commissioned several of these Minimalist classics. But don’t let Kronos keep you from buying the Carducci Quartet’s 2010 Naxos release, “Philip Glass: String Quartets Nos. 1–4.” The young British ensemble delivers muscular, athletic accounts that stand comfortably beside the edgy, “downtown” versions waxed by the foursome from San Francisco. For me, Kronos evokes the composer’s interest in electric keyboards and amplification; Carducci does something different, using its warm, closely knit ensemble sound to confirm the place of these quartets in the classical canon.



Notes: Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association, December 2010

Those whose only exposure to the music of Philip Glass has been through his celebrated work for stage and film may be taken aback by this recording of his first four string quartets. Familiar elements of his style are certainly present—the relentless unison arpeggiation; the clear, even adamant tonal centers; the rudimentary harmonic progressions—but they are scattered throughout these pieces rather than constant, or they appear in mutant form. The four quartets span a period of just over two decades, and their arrangement in the program is curious: Glass’s first quartet was written in 1966, while the influence of his teacher Nadia Boulanger was still fresh and he was experimenting with his compositional voice. It is clearly a work of protominimalism, filled with repetition and small motifs, yet at the same time its melodic content is stark and spiky and obviously informed by mid-century atonality. Although this piece helps to provide a useful context for his later quartets, it is for some reason featured third on the program, after the second quartet, from 1983 (a dour and brooding but thoroughly beautiful set of four movements written as interludes for a staging of the Samuel Beckett play Company) and the third, from 1985 (based on Glass’s score for a film about the life and suicide of writer Yukio Mishima). The final work on this disc is the most recent recent of the four, a 1989 composition subtitled “Buczak.” In this piece Glass’s particular brand of minimalism comes into most direct and explicit confrontation with the romantic masterworks of the string quartet form, with frankly uneven results—in the first movement the interaction between Glassian restraint and Schubertian emotion feels ham-handed, the simple ostinatos of 1970s minimalism crowded by swells of yearning chords. The second movement is contemplative and quite lovely, recalling Debussy in its dry abstraction; the third finds Glass drawing on a wide variety of influences to create a rich and satisfying pastiche. The playing of the Carducci Quartet is excellent throughout; they neither overplay the expressive passages nor exaggerate the dryness of the more minimal material.



Rob Haskins
American Record Guide, November 2010

This compares very favorably with previous recordings by the Smith Quartet on Signum (Sept/Oct 2008) and Kronos Quartet on Nonesuch (July/Aug 1995). Of course, I miss the fifth quartet, but perhaps the Carduccis are planning a follow-up release with the String Sextet (Michael Riesman’s arrangement of Symphony 3) and the Fifth Quartet (perhaps also with a new quartet or Glass’s violin sonata).

The Carduccis are young and vibrant—their repertoire embraces both the standard repertoire and new works, and so they play with a very rich sense of the string quartet tradition in their souls. Like the Smith Quartet, they project some of the intricate textures of Glass’s quartets better than the Kronos, and they also dig into the occasional dissonances of the music with greater gusto (as in Quartet 3:II).

The recorded sound seems more ambient than the Smiths; this works well for the strange, isolated figures in Quartet 1. In fact, the Carducci’s make a better case for this work, overall, than either the Smiths or the Duke Quartet (May/June 1994). When I compare this release to the Smiths, I find the latter preferable—but only by a little. (The main differences are owing to the slightly more refined sound of the Smith Quartet and their greater poise as interpreters.) But the Carduccis are a very close second, and Naxos’s prices, of course, are very competitive.



Dominy Clements
MusicWeb International, October 2010

With five string quartets to his name, this disc represents the bulk of Philip Glass’s contribution to the genre. The earliest, String Quartet No. 1, comes from the period just before Glass began exploring what we would recognise today as ‘true’ minimalism. Aspects of a minimalistic approach are beginning to crystallise however, related however more to the alternative scales and cyclical repetitions of Asian music, as well as the restricted use of material represented by John Cage. The result is a kind of rough-hewn Morton Feldman in miniature, each segment holding its own ‘universe in a grain of sand’, but still seeking a truly effective framework on which to hang and develop the ideas.

In the end, it was as much the framework which became the essence of the music which Glass was to be creating within a short space of time from the String Quartet No. 1, and with a period working and performing with his own ensemble’s energetic sound. The programme of this disc opens with the String Quartet No. 2, originally written as a set of four interludes for a stage production of Samuel Beckett’s poem ‘Company’. The first of these sees Glass at his most lyrically poignant, with the violin floating its few eloquent melodic notes over a gently undulating accompaniment. The quartet has a musical feel which can in general be compared with Glass’s 1983 opera Akhnaten, the second movement alternating moments of dramatically energetic and quieter more anticipatory ostinato. The third returns to the feel of the first, with a more restless feel, building to a brief but heavily portentous climax. The final movement has similar dynamic contrasts to the second, but mainly projects a feel of diffuse intensity—a handkerchief waved from the bridge of a diving submarine, purposeful and lost at the same time.

The String Quartet No. 3 also has extra-musical origins, having been made for a film about the remarkable Japanese writer Yukio Mishima. The entire film score included work for full orchestra, but extracting the string quartet sections to create a concert piece was a logical idea, as these moments went closest in association with the subject of the film and have their own sense of unity. The harmonies and character of the movements remind me most of Glass’s 1986 ‘Songs for Liquid Days’ album, though through the familiar rocking figurations and cyclical patterns the quartet music does have a more classically bound feel which is only partly to do with the medium. Most inventive is the third movement, Grandmother and Kimitake, which goes beyond the expected in both harmonies and rhythm, and much of the rest has a poignant feel which makes for a soothing and at times moving listening experience.

The longest and latest of the quartets on this disc, and the only one in three parts, the String Quartet No. 4 stands apart from Nos. 2 and 3 in being a pure concert piece. The work was a commission in memory of artist Brian Buczak, but the richness of its material and sonorities has less to do with the New York modern art world than a referring back to the medium of the string quartet as a carrier of some of Western music’s most serious and expressive musical statements through history. The first movement has some potent bi-tonal harmonic effects through Glass’s restless hallmark figurations. The second movement, one of Glass’s finest, also has some intriguing sonorities, initially pairing the violins in a lament expressed in octaves, carried by the viola and cello, also paired in a simple but highly effective ground. These ideas develop, the violins becoming an equal duetting pair of voices before the cello is freed to introduce its own melodic character, bringing along the violin with its song. The final movement returns to more typical Glass hemiolas and figurations, though again this is filled with affecting melodic gestures and a finely balanced, sculptural sense of poise.

This release has competition from the complete quartets (1–5) from Paul Smith Quartet on Signum Classics and the Kronos Quartet on Nonesuch, though this only deals with Quartets 2–5. This very fine Naxos disc undercuts both by a considerable price margin, and is therefore almost an instant recommendation, especially when you consider the quality of performance and recording on offer. The Carducci Quartet is clearly an excellent young ensemble. As far as I am concerned they don’t put a foot wrong in these performances, which are filled with marvellously expressive phrasing and a keen sense of colour and nuance. If you like Philip Glass’s mature style then you will find a great deal to appreciate here. There is a distinct and satisfying lack of pretension, and none of the ‘hard core’ minimalism which many listeners can find hard to stomach. With the extra-musical associations many of the pieces have you can expect a similar sense of atmosphere to, for instance, some of Michael Nyman’s more gentle later film music style.



Pwyll ap Siôn
Gramophone, September 2010

The Carduccis take a cool and entirely apt approach to Glass’s string quartets

Glass’s output as a whole often aspires to the condition of chamber music, even when writing for his own amplified ensemble of keyboards, winds and voices, or for large-scale media such as opera and film. It therefore comes as no surprise that when Glass’s musical language took on a more personal course during the 1980s, he turned to the expressive medium par excellence—the string quartet—to realise his new aesthetic and stylistic aims.

Three of the quartets featured on this disc—Nos 2–4—were written during the 1980s, and all take their affective cues from extramusical subject matter: the Second from Samuel Beckett’s solipsistic ruminations; the Third based on the life and tragic death of Japanese writer Yukio Mishima; and the Fourth in memory of downtown New York artist Brian Buczak.

All of which presents something of a conundrum for performers of this music: whether to imbue the darker tones of Glass’s quartets with the more open and impersonal minimalist style of the 1970s or to impart dramatic neo-romantic gestures and colorations. Past recordings have tended to go for the latter—especially the Kronos Quartet, who sometimes treat Glass’s music as if it were late Brahms. A more recent recording of the complete cycle by the highly rated Smith Quartet (Signum, 6/08) is more restrained by comparison but the Carducci Quartet have arguably taken their approach even further. By performing these works with an intense and focused detachment, the Carduccis allow the music simply to speak for itself. They also get it right on the only work which demands a degree of emotional intensity—the early, proto-minimalist String Quartet No 1—which, in its use of epigrammatic atonal cycles, sounds like Webern fragments looped over and over again.



The Strad, August 2010

By opening the disc with the Second Quartet, the Carducci has chosen to begin with the most readily accessible of Philip Glass’s five quartet scores. Created by combining four short interludes from a 1983 staging of Samuel Beckett’s prose-poem ‘Company’, it came at a time when Glass was fully immersed in his now familiar Minimalist style.The Third followed two years later and used music from the film documenting the life of the Japanese author Yukio Mishima. It’s strong and dramatic in content, and its weight and gravitas continue into the Fourth Quartet written in memory of the experimental artist Brian Buczak.For the First Quartet, we go back to 1966 and a time when Glass was still searching for a musical identity that would discard serialism. If he wasn’t quite successful in forging an individual voice, the two-movement score is still striking. Bringing these works to life requires a multitude of nuances and spotless intonation, and the young British-based Carducci Quartet flawlessly meets the challenge. The intricate web of sound throughout is rhythmically precise and crystal clear, with minute changes of dynamics unfailingly achieved. The recording is generous in the lower reaches, adding to Emma Denton’s richly toned cello.



Laima
WRUV Reviews, July 2010

Glass’s four string quartets on this CD are minimalist yet include a variety of melodies as historically quartets do. Play all!



Blair Sanderson
Allmusic.com, July 2010

The string quartets of Philip Glass occupy a small but significant place in his catalog, for they present a sound palette that is distinct from his other ensemble works, and offer expressions that are unusually neo-Romantic for this minimalist composer. The chromatic dissonances and apparent atonality of the String Quartet No. 1 (1966) separate it from the rest of the quartets, but even in this early work, the contrapuntal lines are plainly built up from the repeated patterns that would later become the composer’s calling card. The String Quartet No. 2, “Company” (1983), and the String Quartet No. 3, “Mishima” (1985), were adapted respectively from scores for a theater piece and a film, and in their modal harmonies and gentle deployment of patterns reflect the softer approach that the mature Glass adopted for much of his acoustic instrumental music. The String Quartet No. 4, “Buczak” (1989), shares much of the harmonic lushness, rocking ostinatos, and expressive warmth of the previous two quartets, but it also makes a connection to the quartet literature of the past by referring to Schubert and Dvořák. The Carducci String Quartet is not the first group to explore these works, which have been recorded previously by the Kronos Quartet for Nonesuch, and the Smith Quartet for Signum. These last two groups have also recorded the String Quartet No. 5 (1991), so they have the edge over the Carducci for completeness. But even though this CD only covers the first four quartets, it is worth hearing for its committed performances and for its lustrous sound, thanks to the clear recording in the Holy Innocents Church, Highnam, Gloucestershire.



Joshua Meggitt
Cyclic Defrost, June 2010

The string quartet might not be most representative of Philip Glass’ work, but they offer a compelling vehicle for distilling his approach. A pioneering Minimalist, Glass has one of the most recognisable voices in contemporary music, which has become both a blessing and a curse. His music can be both spellbindingly thrilling and mind-numbingly dull, occasionally in the one piece. His early operas remain fascinating and revolutionary, yet his more recent symphonies and film scores wheel out the same dreary arpeggios, magnified into absurdity, transforming personal style into weary cliche. This collection of string quartets, the first four of the five Glass has written, hammer away, in subtly varied ways, at an admittedly restricted compositional palette. However, perhaps due to the idiosyncratic nature of the medium and the vast historical baggage it’s lumbered with, and the commitment invested by performers the Carducci Quartet, these pieces transcend the limitations of Glass’ compositional approach, and stretch the quartet format into new and intriguing shapes.

The First Quartet comes from 1966, a seminal period in Glass’ development, struggling against dominant twelve-tone serialism towards a new, direct and simple language. Minimalism’s blindly repetitive patterns had yet to fully assert themselves, at least in Glass, but they’re not far off. Raga runs and Eastern-tinged modes meet with rare punctuations of silence and a looser rhythmic sense, all products of Glass’ interest in Ravi Shankar and John Cage. The Second String Quartet didn’t arrive until 1983, and by this point his Minimalist approach was fully realised. Flowing rhythms are bowed away on lower strings over which melodic patterns are unfolded, and repeated, on violins, creating a fresh, forward drive and a blossoming tonal lushness.

The Third Quartet (1985) takes these ideas a step further. Based on Glass’ score for Paul Schrader’s film Mishima, the composer’s familiar tropes are here whipped into a frenzy, effectively evoking the crazed, fascistic mind of the film’s protagonist, suicidal novelist Yukio Mishima. The Fourth Quartet of 1989 shifts gears back somewhat, and while the typical traits are still present, we’re also given a greater engagement with the string quartet tradition, particularly that of Schubert and Dvorak, and a matured sense of restraint. This is a fantastic survey of one facet of Glass, focusing on the sheer excitement that can result from repetitive, cumulative development and ignoring the tedium of his later scores.




Jed Distler
ClassicsToday.com, June 2010

Philip Glass’ two-movement 1966 First quartet bears gestural seeds of the repetitive style for which he’s both deified and derided, although its dissonant idiom is light years removed from what we normally associate with this composer. Imagine late Shostakovich with the proverbial needle stuck in the groove (pardon my outdated vinyl LP reference!), or a louder, more loquacious Morton Feldman, and you’ll get the idea.

Quartets 2 and 3 derive from theatrical scores. The Second comprises four brief interludes for Mabou Mines’ staging of Samuel Beckett’s prose-poem Company, and largely center around the key of A minor. Sound cues from Glass’ soundtrack to Paul Schrader’s film Mishima make up the Third’s five movements. By contrast, the Fourth’s three movements are larger in scale and more ambitious in terms of harmonic and textural scope. In fact, the first movement’s long C major double-stop sequences wouldn’t be out of place in Dvorák, while Beethoven’s spirit seems to inform the third movement’s sudden dynamic dips and surprising silences.

The Carducci Quartet more than holds its own in this repertoire alongside the Kronos and Smith Quartets. They match the Smith’s tonal ripeness and dynamic breadth in No. 1, but with more liberal vibrato all around and stronger rhythmic accentuation in the first movement’s climax. The Carducci’s bass-oriented blend and somewhat statuesque treatment of the Second’s third movement and the Third’s finale markedly differ from the Kronos’ lighter, more conversational repartee. On the other hand, the Carduccis bring more shapely profile to the accompanying patterns and sustained violin melodies of the Fourth’s second movement than either of their estimable colleagues. And in No. 2’s churning finale, the Carduccis strike a happy medium between the Kronos’ delicate inner "swing" and the Smith’s relatively austere, immaculately controlled soft textures.

Naxos’ resonant ambient warmth suits this ensemble’s sonority, although my own tastes lean toward the drier sonic intimacy Nonesuch provides for Kronos. What’s most important is just how well Glass’ quartets make an impact through different interpretive perspectives, and the Carducci Quartet deserves nothing less than a solid recommendation, with the promise that they’ll record Glass’ Fifth quartet as well.






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