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David DeBoor Canfield
Fanfare, November 2014

…music that really grabbed my attention, and made a lasting impression upon me. © 2014 Fanfare

Steve Schwartz
Classical Net, November 2014

…[violist] Molly Carr, and the pianist Charles Abramovic penetrate to the heart of the Viola Sonata and reveal it as something that should enter the core repertory for the instrument. Bassoonist Eric Stomberg leaps over the hurdles Higdon has put in his path through the Dark Wood as easily as if they almost weren’t there, and he and his ensemble partners achieve true chamber give-and-take—the partnership of equals the score demands. © 2014 Classical Net Read complete review

David Kettle
The Strad, January 2014

Jennifer Higdon is one of America’s most respected and widely performed contemporary composers, so the opportunity that this new disc offers to explore some of her early chamber music…is a welcome one. Violist Molly Carr steps out from the group for a persuasive…account of Higdon’s 1990 Viola Sonata, and the rustic quartet arrangement of Amazing Grace is beautifully phrased and well paced. The disc’s highlight…is bassoonist Eric Stomberg’s remarkably characterful traversal of Higdon’s Dark Wood—witty, volatile and arresting. © 2014 The Strad Read complete review

Allen Gimbel
American Record Guide, January 2014

This generous collection offers early chamber works of Jennifer Higdon, for whose work I have been consistently enthusiastic. The program confirms that this composer’s excellence can be heard at all points in her career.

Performances are exceptional. © 2014 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide

Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, January 2014

…the members of the Serafin Quartet…rise to the occasion with their lyrical yet impassioned interpretation.

The sonic profile is crisp and clear, the performances having been recorded at the Gore Recital Hall of the University of Delaware, engineered by Andreas K. Meyer. Indeed, the clarity of the sound is…good…All in all, this is an outstanding release and one worth adding to your Higdon collection. © 2014 Fanfare Read complete review

Jorge Variego
Fanfare, January 2014

…in Amazing Grace Higdon manages to expand upon the original tune without compromising its essence. With charming simplicity, the arrangement takes the listener constantly in and out of the sphere of familiarity. The four-movement Sky Quartet disrupts the warm texture created by the arrangement with vivid pizzicatos and evaporating endings that portray the Western US skies.

Dark Wood is a powerful virtuosic piece that explores the sonic palette of the ensemble. Fresh and technically demanding, the work is reminiscent of Tansman’s Sonatine for Bassoon and Piano with moments that expose an impeccable clockwork performance. Soulful playing by Timothy Schwartz (violin), Lawrence Stomberg (cello), and Charles Abramovic (piano), along with bassoonist Eric Stomberg…

Jennifer Higdon’s music has the distinction of being at once complex and sophisticated but also readily accessible emotionally. Early Chamber Works is a snapshot of her incipient compositional voice. Eclectic and tonally familiar, the CD crushes the listener with a set of exceptional performances filled with moments of crude primitivism and delicate lyricism. © 2014 Fanfare Read complete review

Colin Clarke
Fanfare, January 2014

The 2003 arrangement by the composer for string quartet of a 1998 choral setting of Amazing Grace…reveals an imaginative piece. The theme builds itself into recognizability, while simple, open textures invoke a prairie-like soundscape. The quiet ending is particularly satisfying. Sky Quartet…takes as inspiration the sky in the Western United States, describing its various aspects…The first movement is particularly exciting in its repetitive patterns (without being minimalist) but most impressive surely is the second movement, “Blue Sky.” Truly beautiful, it demonstrates a meditative core even when the surface is shifting. “Fury,” presumably storms, is the most astringent movement, while the Finale (“Immense Sky”) reveals a rewarding (for the listener) complexity.

Higdon states that she was “mindful” of viola sonatas by Hindemith and Clarke, while also citing flute pieces she was playing at the time (the Prokofiev Sonata and Copland’s wonderful Duo). The gorgeous, long lines of the first movement (of two: marked Calmly) are particularly rewarding: this is music that allows itself time to stretch. The sprightly, active second movement (Declamatory) includes a more pensive section, like a chorale. This ruminative section is beautiful, the viola line seemingly seeking the faster movement again…All credit to Molly Carr’s expressive viola playing for showing Higdon’s piece in the best light.

The bassoon piece Dark Wood (2001) shows that instrument’s more virtuoso side…It is quite the helter-skelter ride; the writing throughout is expert. The later quiet sections are also effective, with lovely long cantabile bassoon lines. Finally, there follows the one-movement String Trio…There is a Schoenbergian density to some of the writing, and a wiry, febrile intensity to the counterpoint. The members of the Serafin Quartet give their all, not dropping concentration even for a millisecond. The more tonal arrival points are skillfully woven into the ongoing musical argument by Higdon and delivered with aplomb by the players here. © 2014 Fanfare Read complete review

David DeBoor Canfield
Fanfare, January 2014

The performances of the Serafin String Quartet are superb, as is the playing of bassoonist Eric Stomberg and pianist Charles Abramovic. Add to that the superior recorded sound, and this CD achieves the “must-have” status that I accord to relatively few CDs that I review. Do be sure to acquire this one. © 2014 Fanfare Read complete review

Peter Burwasser
Philadelphia City Paper, December 2013

Top 10 classical albums of 2013: #5

An excellently performed selection of early works by Philly’s own Jennifer Higdon (written before her Grammy and Pulitzer). She has a distinctive and direct voice, even as she experiments with different styles. © 2013 Philadelphia City Paper

Donald Rosenberg
Gramophone, October 2013

The oldest work…is the String Trio, an example of Higdon’s ability to achieve varied moods and immerse instruments in vital conversation. Similarly, the Viola Sonata…takes advantage of the viola’s dark-hued timbre in two movements of invigorating and poignant discussion. In Dark Wood…Higdon conjures mysterious and restless atmospheres teaming bassoon, violin, cello and piano.

Higdon explores the expressive potential and sonorities of the string quartet in two works of varied character. Amazing Grace…is a sweet-natured reworking of the hymn, while Sky Quartet…finds the composer evoking the expansive beauty of nature in four movements of vivid and poetic majesty.

The Serafin Quartet apply silken finesse and gritty vibrancy to their duties and members of the ensemble take part in several other works with first-rate colleagues—pianist Charles Abramovic and bassoonist Eric Stomberg—to telling effect. © 2013 Gramophone Read complete review on Gramophone

Ettore Garzia
Percorsi Musicali, September 2013

…with a path addressed toward a personal way to hear the scores, the composer has revitalized authors like Copland, Bartók or Hindemith without being in any way a replica, especially with the string instruments Higdon has coined a compact, pasty and multi-style form of writing, which is well-thought out to provide spontaneous emotions in adherence on the subjects/objects represented by the scores…

…Along with String Trio, the highlight of the collection is Sky Quartet, a composition in four movements that reflects Higdon’s will to represent musically the wonders of the Colorado’ skies: in this piece Serafin String Quartet reaches a remarkable peak of musical expression and provides an excellent tour in a romantic-impressionist style (intended as colors, not in duration) that you would listen endlessly; you perceive the shapes of clouds that open to lovely sunsets or instead come together in a rigid and fluctuating structure, reflecting a belligerent weather event… © Percorsi Musicali

Terry Robbins
The WholeNote, August 2013

Jennifer Higdon…is firmly established as one of the leading contemporary American composers. With Early Chamber Works…Naxos has added a fascinating retrospective CD to its American Classics series, presenting première recordings, made in association with the composer, of five works from the formative years of Higdon’s career. They are all finely crafted and very accessible. © 2013 The WholeNote Read complete review

Grego Applegate Edwards
Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review, August 2013

The Serafin String Quartet along with Charles Abramovic at the piano and Eric Stomberg on bassoon bring us an interesting selection of early to relatively early chamber works on the new release Sky Quartet…In it we hear Ms. Higdon immersed in poly-stylistic expression with surprising maturity and budding mastery.

The performances match the scores for dedicated singleness of purpose. Ultimately a picture emerges of a bright young musical personality with an idiomatic feel for chamber music and string writing, a smart and warm musical demeanor and a stylistic expansiveness that signal and prefigure the ever-more satisfying works to come. There is no feeling of the sophomoric in these pieces. And they have great charm and lyric power. © 2013 Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review Read complete review

Lisa Flynn
WFMT (Chicago), August 2013

Pulitzer winner Jennifer Higdon is one of the most performed living American composers, and this program provides a unique opportunity to hear first recordings of her earlier chamber music. The String Trio was written while Higdon was a developing young composer, and the influences of Prokofiev and Copland can be heard in the Sonata for Viola and Piano. The beauty and immensity of the Western sky was the inspiration for ‘Sky Quartet,’ while ‘Dark Wood’ explores the soulful and virtuoso character of the bassoon. © 2013 WFMT (Chicago)

David Denton
David's Review Corner, August 2013

Jennifer Higdon is one of those many American composers born in the second-half of the 20th century, who flit in and out of atonality as the mood pleases them. It has created a roller-coaster journey of discovery as we become increasingly familiar with her substantial output, the present disc covering a cross-section of her chamber music. Beginning in tonality with an arrangement of the popular melody, Amazing Grace, before moving to a series of four pictures of the sky as seen in the Western Part of the United States as it passes through the day. There is a calm beauty in the opening movement as dawn gives way to mid-day and the technically demanding atonality of the third movement’s Fury. The Viola Sonata is certainly very easy to like as it explores the many colours of the instrument, not least its nocturnal quality in the first of the two movements, the score as a whole benefitting from the influences of Copland. The most recent piece comes from 2001 with Dark Wood for bassoon, violin, cello and piano, in which Higdon explores a bassoon virtuosity that is far from the dark and ponderous instrument beloved of symphonic composers…the young Serefin String Quartet is a gifted group, their performances of these world premiere recordings communicating their obvious delight in the music. Joined by the bassoonist, Eric Stromberg, and the piano of Charles Abramovic, I much commend the well recorded disc to you. © David’s Review Corner

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