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Robert Reilly
Catholic News Agency, January 2012

Robert Reilly’s Favorite of the Year

This quartet is a hoot, with the music slithering across the dance floor in tangos and sambas. I find it irresistible. The music leaves behind the dance floors of Argentina and inhabits a world of spiritual stillness of the kind captured so effectively by Arvo Pärt… Koppel depicts…an intimate, sparkling place, a harmony of the spheres in which man is at home. This comes close to my favorite string quartet album of the year. © 2012 Catholic News Agency See complete list

Robert Moon
Audiophile Audition, September 2011

First String Quartet (1997) begins with attention-getting glissando slides, motoric rhythms, a klezmer-like tango, and a pizzacato strumming cello. The lively frenetically spooky finale integrates minimalism, jazz and a fugue—exhilarating!

The programmatic Quartet No. 2 (2002) is serious, heartfelt and cosmically lovely. An ethereal second movement glides from planet to planet, unified by delicate pizzacatos. The agitated finale brings us down to earth, reminding us of the “dizzying speed at which …our planet and our life move.”

The mezzo saxophone in the Quintet for Mezzo Saxophone and String Quartet (2008) unites the slight sound of the soprano sax with the depth of the alto sax. There’s a jazzy sexiness in the joyous finale, as the saxophone takes center stage for the rollicking conclusion.

Kudos to saxophonist Benjamin Koppel (the composer’s son) and the Sjaelland String Quartet for idiomatic and flawless performances in riveting sound. This is a magnificent disc that demonstrates how ingratiating and fresh new music can be. Don’t miss it!

David Vernier, May 2011

In the interest of fair-minded listening I did not read any notes to this recording or any press materials: if a modern string quartet can’t stand on its own and explain itself with the strength and elegance of its musical argument (the way Mozart’s and Haydn’s and Beethoven’s works did), then no amount of “explanation” can convince a listener of its worth either in time or aesthetic value. And having listened to this recording three times very carefully, I still have no idea what the note-writer said—but I can unreservedly say that this is a first-rate program of eminently listenable, exceptionally well-wrought chamber music, remarkable for its inventive, conventionally sophisticated string quartet writing—no resorting to gimmicks or lazy, non-musical extremes of timbre or technique.

These days I tend to hold my breath in the first few seconds of listening to a new-music recording—it’s astonishing what gag-inducing blather today’s composers regard as worthy of inflicting on their audiences. But, be not afraid: Anders Koppel is not only an intelligent artist, he also knows how to write really fine music for string quartet—and as a string player, I mean he really knows string writing. The two quartets exemplify the elevation of melody against a fundamentally but harmlessly dissonant background—all the while exploiting the strings’ unique timbral character, and the result is exactly what a string quartet should achieve: 15 or 20 minutes of bracing, engaging music that you couldn’t hear in any other context.

Best of all—and the primary reason to purchase this disc—is the Quintet for Mezzo Saxophone and String Quartet. Okay, while the “custom-built mezzo saxophone”, heard here “for the first time ever on CD”, may be an intriguing draw for some listeners, I have to say that to my ears its sound is little different from an alto saxophone. Nevertheless, this makes no difference regarding the work for which it appears here. The Quintet is a luscious, sexy, richly characterful piece firmly rooted in jazz idioms yet holding court in the most sophisticated arenas of classical style. The saxophone is not just a gratuitous addition but stands as an integral part of the work—Anders Koppel has created something not only sensible but laudable and repeatable and demanding of a place in the concert repertoire, an achievement already noted in our review of his saxophone concertos. Make this a priority.

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