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Colin Clarke
Fanfare, March 2008

The St. Lawrence Quartet plays with great tonal weight and commitment.

…Sohn plays with a mastery that belies her young years. Her rich and varied tone is a constant source of delight. © 2008 Fanfare Read complete review

Jeff Simons
The Buffalo News, August 2007

Jonathan Berger isn’t just a powerful contemporary composer in his ’50s, he’s a Stanford University researcher who, among other things, helped produce a reconstruction of an 1889 cylinder recording by Brahms and various “sonification” programs which have been used to translate complex data into sound, even music (primitive example: the beep caused when a car gets too close to an object.) Some of this disc is fascinating. It alternates between works for solo violin played by Livia Sohn (including one written for a friend of his young son’s about to undergo brain surgery) and String Quartet pieces played by the St. Lawrence Quartet, including a moving three minute memoriam for slain journalist Daniel Pearl. The conflicted and difficult “Miracles and Mud” refers, with deceptive apparent innocence, to two types of coffee in the middle East and is, according to the composer, a juxtaposition of Arab and Jewish cultures. Not easy music, this, but re-hearings are rewarding.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, August 2007

Jonathan Berger was born in the United States in 1954, and became one of the growing breed of American composers looking for new ways of musically speaking within the realms of sounds that meet traditional human concepts of music. I am not fall in love with the disc on first hearing, but it was well worth the effort of gaining familiarity. Berger has built a sizable catalogue of scores, many coming as commissions from both sides of the Atlantic, while at the same he has over sixty publications on a wide range of subjects from music to science. Each of the five works on this disc has a progamme, opening with Eli Eli for string quartet and based on a poem by Hannah Senesh. She died in the Second World War at the age of 23 on a mission to rescue Jews from the Germans. Opening as a dirge the short piece blossoms with sad beauty. The four movements of Sink or Swim for solo violin were inspired by the Scottish American folk-song, The Water is Wide, though you will probably search in vein to find a direct quotation. Flitting between tonality and atonality, there is that sense of the innate Scottish psyche of life's injustice. I learn from the accompanying booklet that on entering a Jewish or Palestine home I would be asked if I wanted coffee 'Nes o botz'(European instant or Arabic), those words converted to English also mean Miracles and Mud, Berger's hope being that one day coexistence will come to the Middle East. It is an extensive piece for string quartet and leads to Berger writing for a sick young boy with variants on tunes Amos enjoyed. Commissioned for the St. Lawrence Quartet, Doubles reshapes the songs - all related to peace and social equality - that Berger enjoyed when he was a teenager. Here is more atonality, often hard-hitting, abrasive and exploring a wide dynamic range. A product of the great pedagogue, Dorothy DeLay, at the Juilliard School of Music, Livia Sohn was multi-prizewinner before embarking on a major solo career in the States. Together for seventeen years I have oft commented elsewhere on the high standards of the St. Lawrence quartet, and I guess these will be benchmark performances.The recordings have been made in a number of venues each with very different acoustics, the earliest dating back to 2002 through to 2005, and one would suspect the St. Lawrence were 'live'performances. It does jolt your ears though overall the sound is satisfying. Aimed at the US market, elsewhere you may find it readily available on Internet.

David Perkins
The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC), July 2007

Jonathan Berger is a 53-year-old Stanford University-based composer just coming into his own. He may seem young to be called a "classic," but his new disc in Naxos American Classics series is certainly a rarity worth celebrating: new music that pleases as well as provokes.

This collection of string pieces ranges from an elegiac and consoling three-minute work in honor of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl ("Eli, Eli"), written in a late 19th-century vein, with a singular melodic line and supportive harmonies, to the 12-minute "Miracles and Mud," which is like shattered glass, sharp-edged and jewel-bright, and using the full gamut of string techniques: tremolandos, harmonics, "col legno," etc.

In each piece Berger makes subtle use of folk music. In "Miracles and Mud," elements of Arab and Israeli music are interwoven; in the final piece, "Doubles," a hymn dissolves into a phantasmagoria like a bad REM sleep, then ends with an outburst of flamenco. The St. Lawrence String Quartet, Stanford's quartet-in-residence, plays with superb skill and spirit.

Equally beautiful are two pieces for solo violin performed by Stanford colleague Livia Sohn, a flexible and insightful performer. These are the six-movement "for amos" and "Sink or Swim," a four-movement piece loosely based on the Scottish-American song "The Water is Wide." Here is a composer of religious intensity, wrestling with the contemporary world, and enjoying to the full the special beauties and rich traditions of stringed instruments.

In January, Berger introduced a piano trio, "Tears in Your Hand," and, in April, a violin concerto, "Jiyeh." Let's hope they're recorded, too.

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