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Robert R Riley, March 2009

Two chamber music CDs of John Corigliano's music are offered by Naxos [this one and 8.559306 CORIGLIANO Violin and Piano Music]. One contains his String Quartet, an intriguing but occasionally abrasive work, along with the String Quartet No. 2 of his student, Jefferson Friedman. Also included is Snapshot: Circa 1909, a string quartet movement inspired by an old photo of Corigliano's father playing the violin when he was eight years old, accompanied by his older brother on the guitar. I first listened to this nostalgic piece in the composer's presence after he had explained its inspiration. It is very sweet and touching, as lovely an evocation of his cherished father as one could imagine. I would want this disc if only as keepsake of my having heard it when and with whom I first did.

The same kind of touching lyricism also appears in the Nocturne movement of the Quartet, though it is followed by more asperities in the Fugue. In the Postlude, there is an ostinato that very much sounds like a slowed down version of a European police car siren. The ostinato occasionally gets passed between instruments and, toward the end, the speed picks up to the point that I thought an arrest would be made, but finally everything slowly dies down and gently fades out. This is a mysterious piece, then, but worth the effort it sometimes requires.

Patrick Rucker
Fanfare, November 2007

Here it is clear that each of the four musicians has internalized the expressive ways and means of both composers. The ardor and eloquence of these performances by superbly gifted and prepared musicians are a joy to the ear. Very highly recommended. © 2007 Fanfare Read complete review

Derek Warby
MusicWeb International, July 2007

This fine CD of world premiere recordings (apart from the Corigliano quartet) proves an interesting and educational experience. Not only do we sample Corigliano’s style in relatively light mood in the first two miniatures contrasted against the dark and complex language of his remarkable String Quartet but we also get to hear an accomplished work by one of Corigliano’s pupils, Jefferson Friedman.

Corigliano is arguably the best known and most feted composer of his generation. Honours include a Grawemeyer Award for his haunting, terrifying and now widely performed First Symphony, a Pulitzer Prize for the Second Symphony and an Academy Award for his score for François Girard’s film The Red Violin. Corigliano’s music is often uncompromising and complex but always somehow transparent and directly communicative. It is hard not to have an immediate emotional response to his major works – even if that experience is sometimes a little uncomfortable in its intensity.

The first two works on this CD show the composer in nostalgic and playful lights respectively. Snapshot: Circa 1909 was written as result of a request from the Elements Quartet for a piece inspired by a photograph. Corigliano chose a family heirloom which had always been dear to his heart – a picture of his father and uncle playing a violin and guitar duet in about 1909. Corigliano’s father was only about 8 years old in the photograph but went on to become concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic for nearly thirty years, playing under Toscanini and Bernstein and acting as soloist in many concerto performances. Snapshot opens with the second violin playing a wistful melody accompanied by the other instruments pizzicato, in imitation of his uncle’s guitar. The whole piece is infused with a dreamlike quality and it is easy to sense the affection the composer obviously felt for his subject matter. The photograph in question is thoughtfully reproduced on the front cover of the CD booklet. A nice touch.

A Black November Turkey started life as long ago as 1972 as an a cappella setting of a strange poem by Richard Wilbur; a bitter and savage farmyard allegory which does not have a happy ending.

The String Quartet of 1995 must count as one of Corigliano’s greatest achievements. Cast in five movements, it takes the listener on a roller-coaster of the emotions, none of them wholly happy. Corigliano must have thought highly of this work as, when asked in 2000 by the Boston Symphony Orchestra for a piece to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the orchestra’s residence in Symphony Hall, he decided to re-cast the Quartet, re-writing, expanding and scoring for string orchestra. In its original form the Quartet is one of the toughest in the repertoire. It was written for the Cleveland Quartet for its farewell tour before disbanding and in it Corigliano fully explored the wealth of compositional and musical possibilities that writing for such an intimate ensemble allows. Binding the Quartet together is a motto of even repetitions of a single note, a series of broken-up minor thirds and concentration on four pitch centres, as well as an arch-like architecture that it shares with Bartók’s Fourth Quartet; first and last, second and fourth movements related, with the third Nocturne (Bartók’s ‘night music’) acting as a central lynch-pin. To my ears, Bartók’s ghost was invoked many times during this masterfully-conceived quartet. This is evident from the outset with the interior arch-like form of the eerie first movement, recalling Bartók’s movements of this kind. This is followed by a wild, dissonant, rhythmically-complex Scherzo and an almost static but endlessly riveting Nocturne. Corigliano has always been fascinated by counterpoint and, in particular, the fugue. This fugal fourth movement (marked ‘severe’) shares much of the vehemence of the earlier Scherzo. The composer adds to his contrapuntal task, however (and that of the four players), by having the various fugal entries enter in different tempos, the whole effect being a strange combination of contrapuntal order and organised chaos. This constant battle between coherence and apparent disintegration is almost a metaphor for this Quartet as a whole. Not surprisingly, this fierce fugue eventually burns itself out and dissolves into the final Postlude which unwinds almost as a mirror-image of the opening Prelude, therefore completing the arch.

It is interesting to hear Jefferson Friedman’s Second Quartet immediately after that of his former teacher. Friedman seems hardly less accomplished and certainly no less lauded – born only in 1974, he has already been awarded the 2001 ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award, the 2001 Palmer Dixson Prize, and the 2001 Juilliard Orchestra Competition. He is also the recipient of the 2004 Rome Prize Fellowship in Musical Composition from the American Academy in Rome. The Second Quartet won the ASCAP Leo Kaplan award and the BMI Student Composer Award in 2000.

Friedman’s brief programme note declares that much of his music is programmatic and describes the Second Quartet as a ‘diary entry’. He does not expand on this any more than to say he wrote the work during his studies with John Corigliano, without whose guidance, Friedman says, the composition of this Quartet would not have been possible. One is immediately struck from the outset by the energy surging through this music. It shows a similar intensity to Corigliano’s music and the spectre of Bartók is still very evident – down the ‘snap’ pizzicatos which abound near the beginning of the opening movement. Yet, this is a new and individual voice – and one which knows how to communicate clearly. As well as the influences of Bartók and Corigliano, I also detected faint echoes of Debussy and Ravel, a little in the restless slow second movement but especially in the third movement finale. There is also an aching lyricism in the music that reminded me that this young composer was Corigliano’s pupil.

These works for string quartet could hardly wish for better advocates than the Corigliano Quartet. It was formed in 1996 to concentrate largely on new music and has won its own share of plaudits and awards in its short career. The intense musical and technical prowess of the Corigliano Quartet’s playing is rewarded here with a very natural-sounding recording in which every nuance is captured beautifully without there ever being any artificial spotlighting or over-close placement of microphones.

In so many ways this CD of first-class string quartets by American composers, teacher and pupil, yields many rewards, especially on repeated listening. I urge lovers of the medium to be brave and sample this wonderful disc, especially at Naxos’s giveaway price.

Vivien Schweitzer
The New York Times, June 2007

JOHN CORIGLIANO wrote his gripping String Quartet No. 1 (“Farewell”) for the Cleveland Quartet’s final concert tour in 1995. The Cleveland’s fading embers sparked the birth of the fiery Corigliano Quartet, which, incongruously, was founded in 1996 to champion the “Farewell.”

It is not hard to understand why Mr. Corigliano encouraged the quartet to continue playing under his name, in light of these knockout performances. In the five-movement “Farewell” Quartet (still a staple of the group’s repertory), the players vividly illuminate Mr. Corigliano’s varied sonic landscapes, from the anguished microtonal moan that opens the work through the slashing chords and mournful melodies of the Scherzo and the hypnotic, exotic counterpoint of the Nocturne to the stark, dissonant counterpoint of the Fugue.

The disc opens with the beautifully yearning “Snapshot: Circa 1909,” inspired by a photograph of Mr. Corigliano’s father, who was also named John and eventually became concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, at about 8, playing the violin and standing next to his older brother, who is playing the guitar. An evocative violin melody soars over guitarlike strumming, and the work fades away with a dreamy, delicate melody played in the highest violin register.

That gentle nostalgia is shattered by the riotous opening of the short “Black November Turkey.”

There are also riotous moments in the charismatic String Quartet No. 2 by Jefferson Friedman, which was written when he was studying with Mr. Corigliano at the Juilliard School and shows his influence. The slashing chords and frenzy of the rhythmically driven first movement are interspersed with melancholy lyricism. After a slow, powerful middle movement, the conclusion veers between vigor and quietly simmering tension.

The Corigliano Quartet champions Mr. Friedman’s meaty work as devotedly as those of his mentor.

Joshua Kosman
San Francisco Chronicle, June 2007

John Corigliano's music for string quartet included here is lush, vivacious and strongly built, and the Corigliano String Quartet plays it with fervor and imagination. The major offering, Corigliano's String Quartet from 1995, is a large-scale work in five movements, each of which encompasses a pretty detailed musical argument, and although the scope can sometimes feel a little overdone, the range of Corigliano's writing—from stark counterpoint to lustrous rhapsodizing—is always impressive. Even more striking are the two short curtain-raisers, including "Snapshot: Circa 1909," a gorgeous evocation of a sepia-toned family photograph. Also featured here is the dynamic String Quartet No. 2 of Jefferson Friedman, written when he was Corigliano's student at Juilliard; it's made up of two rhythmically vigorous outer movements and a slow movement of unnerving beauty.

Chris Morgan
Scene Magazine, June 2007

American composer John Corigliano was inspired to write his Snapshot: Circa 1909 by a photograph of his father and uncle which is reproduced on the cover of this CD. The sepiatinged image is faithfully interpreted in his moving and wistful tribute to simpler times. In this composition, the beautifully blended sounds of the Corigliano Quartet achieve a rare expression of nostalgic wonder in which some members pluck their violins like guitars, and others soar gracefully in virtuosic splendour.

The result is a sublime elucidation on nature of remembrance. While there is certainly an almost haunted quality to much of this music, occasional stressed harmonies and challenging melodic passages are ultimately rewarding. A Black November Turkey, which takes its unusual name from a poem by Richard Wilbur, is an idiosyncratic, short piece guaranteed to hold a listener’s attention quite effectively. Originally composed as an a cappella choral work, it is well served by the string arrangement, which brings urgency and a sarcastic edge to the song.

Taken in its entirety, this recording is by no means easy listening. Yet fans will appreciate the care with which the players have rendered the material, and the scope of the composer’s ambition.

Michael S. Markowitz, June 2007

John Corigliano pays tribute to his father, the longtime concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, in a haunting and lyrical work called Snapshot: Circa 1909, which opens a disc of American music for string quartet. The CD also includes Corigliano's 1995 Quartet and the Second Quartet of young Jefferson Friedman (born 1974), a pupil of Corigliano.

Jeff Simon
The Buffalo News, June 2007

John Corigliano—who will be 70 next year—is among the most just honored of living American composers and this exceptional disc gives ample evidence why. What can be both profoundly moving and dazzling, I think, is the sheer variety of sonority of his music here—from the sentimental violin and simulated guitar of “Snapshot: Circa 1909” (which depicts the composer’s father, longtime Philharmonic concertmaster of the same name and is reproduced on the cover) to the alternating sumptuous and slashing unisons of his String Quartet, which was written for the disbanding Cleveland Quartet (once UB’s resident quartet.) It stands to reason that as that rare living composer to have a quartet named after him, he could count on magnificent performance of his own music from them. And so he can.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2007

Born in New York City in 1938, the son of the New York Philharmonic concertmaster, John Corigliano is numbered among the most influential American composers working in the second half of the 20th century. He was also one of a group who returned to melodic music while using aspects of contemporary influences, the aim being to rebuild bridges between composer and audience. He has worked to commissions from many of the major orchestras in the States, and is probably best known in this sphere, though his output includes a sizeable inventory of chamber music. Snapshot: Circa 1909 is a short piece for string quartet inspired by a photograph taken around 1909 showing his father as a child violinist accompanied by his brother on guitar. The work's contents are based on that idea of a solo violin accompanied by the pizzicato strings in the mood of a guitar. A Black November Turkey started out life as a cappella choral work to a text about life on the farmyard. Those two pieces do not really prepare for the hard-hitting first two movements of the Quartet dating from 1995, Bartok may be there, though I am more reminded of Hindemith. Composed for the final world tour of the great Cleveland Quartet, there are differing feelings of sadness at their parting, all coming together in an extended Postlude. Unfortunately those living in the UK will never listen to this finale without simply hearing embedded in the music the warning sound of ambulances. The score places each instrument in a challenging solo role that would have been ideal for the Cleveland.? Born in 1971, Jefferson Friedman was a pupil of Corigliano at the Juilliard School, Mastering there in 2001. In 2004 he gained the Rome Prize from the American Academy in the city and has already assembled a sizeable portfolio of compositions including this Second Quartet composed in 2000. In three untitled movements, the strong rhythmic impulse of the opening makes an immediate impact, A conventionally relaxed central movement leads to a finale where again it is the unusual rhythmic patterns that attract. Founded in 1996, the Corigliano Quartet is dedicated to the performance of new American music and has toured extensively throughout the country. Technically they are outstanding - you have to be to perform this disc - and here offer performances with that sense of dedication new music requires.

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