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Grant Chu Covell
La Folia, May 2012

Ligeti made his mark on the 20th century…The First…reveals deep understanding of Bartók’s quartets…The Parker looks past the grit and embraces Ligeti’s confidence in the medium. The two movements from 1950 serve as footnotes, revealing yet another easygoing non-modern composer from the century’s start. © 2012 La Folia Read complete review

Bob Neill
Positive Feedback Online, March 2012

The Parkers on this Naxos CD caused the Tocaros to jump and dance about Funk’s largish listening room to the delight and astonishment of all assembled. They are as good on Ligeti as the Pacificas are on Carter, which is saying a lot.

Ligeti’s quartets are among the best modern music there is—the next step (forward? sideways? up?) from his countryman/predecessor Bartók’s; and this is the best recording I’ve heard of them. This album is a great introduction to the composer—and the sound is as good as the musicianship and music. © 2012 Positive Feedback Online Read complete review

Leslie Wright
MusicWeb International, December 2010

This young quartet has nothing to fear from the competition in these works, either in the Bartókian first quartet or the more radical second. The early Andante and Allegro is a balm to the ears after the quartets and a good way to conclude this bargain.

Leslie Wright
MusicWeb International, December 2010

MusicWeb International Recordings of the Year 2010

This young quartet has nothing to fear from the competition in these works, either in the Bartókian first quartet or the more radical second. The early Andante and Allegro is a balm to the ears after the quartets and a good way to conclude this bargain.

Leslie Wright
MusicWeb International, December 2010

MusicWeb International Recordings of the Year 2010

This young quartet has nothing to fear from the competition in these works, either in the Bartókian first quartet or the more radical second. The early Andante and Allegro is a balm to the ears after the quartets and a good way to conclude this bargain.

Allen Gimbel
American Record Guide, May 2010

This is very much music of its time, and it has not aged well.

The program closes with the very early Andante and Allegretto, a couple of lovely pastoral scraps from 1950 written when the composer was just an innocent lad of 27. This piece has absolutely no intimations of what was to come. These are two gentle and quite British tonal movements that sound neither Hungarian nor modern, but are definitely useful as drop-the-laser fare. The Parker Quartet comes out of the Quartet program at NEC, and has the measure of all these stylistically varied pieces.

Leslie Wright
MusicWeb International, April 2010

Leslie Wright
MusicWeb International, April 2010

Listening to these quartets makes one regret all the more that Ligeti did not fulfill his plan to compose a third quartet, as Richard Whitehouse noted in his accompanying detailed essay. Nonetheless, one can be thankful for the two outstanding works on this disc. They give ample evidence of a real successor to Béla Bartók in the genre. These quartets have been recorded a number of times, but the Parker approach these works as if newly discovered. My first exposure to them came via the Arditti Quartet in Sony’s Ligeti Edition, an invaluable compendium (later taken over by Warner as the Ligeti Project) of the vast majority of the composer’s oeuvre. I still value the Arditti’s accounts highly, as I do those of the younger Artemis Quartet on Virgin. Now we have the first “bargain” set by another young group that I had not heard of before. Right off, I will state that the Parker Quartet has nothing whatsoever to fear from its illustrious predecessors. It was also good to include the early Andante and Allegretto, even if it shows little in the way of hallmarks of the mature Ligeti. The quartets belong to two distinct stages in the composer’s life: the first from his “Hungarian” period before he left for the West, and the second from his more experimental years spent in Germany. How fortunate it would have been if Ligeti had given us an example late in his life when his compositions became a synthesis of the experimental and the more folk-oriented music of the earlier period. Alas, it was not to be.

The Quartet No. 1, while owing no small debt to Bartók, has Ligeti’s identity firmly stamped on it from the beginning. As Whitehouse points out, it is in one continuous movement that can be divided into anywhere from four to eight sections. The Artemis Quartet’s recording has twelve tracks for the quartet and the Arditti eight, while the present one divides the work into four sections. I can think of no better introduction to Ligeti than this work, unless it be his Musica ricercata for piano or the Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet, an adaptation of six of the piano pieces from the former work, both written in the period of the quartet. Indeed, Ligeti quotes the Vivace energico from the Musica ricercata or the Presto ruvido movement from the Bagatelles, the wind version of that movement, just before the “one minute mark” on the third track, following a delightfully humorous waltz. There is much comedy typical of this composer throughout the quartet, and the Parkers relish the humour without overdoing it. Their many slides are more pronounced than those by the Arditti, their pizzicati more vehement, and their pauses longer. They are obviously having a great deal of fun with the work, whereas the Arditti and to a lesser extent the Artemis project greater experience with the work, not to say that either quartet is bored with it. Having heard this quartet many times in the past, I was struck by their sheer energy and at the same time the utter stillness of the work’s quiet sections. They really bring out the contrasts in the quartet better than I recall hearing before, and their virtuosity is staggering. This may now be my favourite account of this amazing quartet.

The Quartet No. 2 is a much tougher work to get to know. Written in 1968 for the LaSalle Quartet, who incidentally made a famous recording of these quartets for DG, it is in five movements and structurally recalls Bartók. In every other way, though, this is as representative a composition of Ligeti’s middle period, as the Quartet No. 1 was of his first period. It begins with loud unison pizzicato that, as Whitehouse writes, sets the work in motion. Richard Steinitz in the definitive study on the composer in English, György Ligeti: Music of the Imagination, describes the quartet as “a wild zigzag trajectory catapulted out of furious energy into a state of graceful stasis, choreographed in five movements.” I have had the pleasure of attending a performance of the work and can say that the visual element is important in getting to really appreciate it. The most memorable movement for me is the third, one of those “mechanistic” pieces for which Ligeti is famous. It is quite similar to the third movement, Movimento preciso e mecannico of his Chamber Concerto. It is played mostly pizzicato, run amok, and is microtonal and rhythmically complex. The fourth movement juxtaposes loud, jagged chords with very quiet moments. The quartet ends by vaporizing into nothingness, but not before a fleeting episode of melancholy, something that would be more prevalent in Ligeti’s late compositions. As in the earlier work, the Parkers are superb and fully the equal of the Arditti and Artemis recordings. Their sheer virtuosity is evident throughout this demanding work.

After the second quartet, the Andante and Allegretto comes as quite a shock. We are now back in a much earlier period—not only Bartókian, but Romantic even. Yet, it is genuine Ligeti with his own brand of Hungarian folk melody. In a way it is a nice to end the disc with music that is simple and beautiful. One can sit back and enjoy the warm sound of this young ensemble. They treat the work with as much respect as the later and greater quartets.

To have these three works in such outstanding performances, recorded in sound that is both rich and clear, and at bargain price, is a real treat.

Arnold Whittall
Gramophone, April 2010

A new quartet launches into Ligeti—and the results are impressive

Here is another relatively new quartet plunging into the recording fray with “high end” repertory and reaping the rewards of their apparent fearlessness. Ligeti’s two numbered quartets require feats of individual virtuosity to be combined with the kind of effortless coordination that sounds utterly spontaneous. The slightest lapse creates chaos, and perhaps the greatest compliment one can pay the Parker Quartet is that, whatever false starts and shambolic episodes occurred during rehearsals, the recordings have the conviction and character of single takes: these performances might just as well be “live”.

The disc aims to satisfy completists by including the two movements from 1950 whose polite, occasionally quirky neo-classicism gives little hint of the Ligetian eruptions to come. The Andante and Allegretto also steer clear of Bartók, a challenging model for any aspiring Hungarian composer in the Communist era: and the most remarkable aspect of the first quartet “proper” (1953–54) is its knowing transference of the clichés of Bartókian night-music into the kind of alarmingly comic nightmares that Ligeti would soon make his own.

Fourteen years later, with Hungary abandoned and the full potential of the modem musical West confronted, the nightmares were less comic, more seriously scary. As with much music constructed as a collection of technical studies, it’s hard for interpreters of the Second Quartet to get behind the spectacular sound effects to expose ideas of genuine substance. The Parkers manage this as well as any of their more seasoned predecessors—the LaSalle, the Arditti—and make one eager to hear more contemporary repertory from them, especially when so efficiently recorded and at super-budget price.

Jean-Yves Duperron
Classical Music Sentinel, March 2010

…Andante and Allegro will strike you as a much more idyllic piece of music, very reminiscent of Ralph Vaughan Williams for example, and a work from a completely different world than the 2nd quartet.

The musicians that comprise the Parker Quartet are simply amazing. They play with a commitment and level of energy rarely encountered. For a young ensemble, they play with a maturity and assured emotional control usually common to only more established groups. They expose the context of the music admirably well, and deliver a sound that grabs your immediate attention and doesn’t let go. The Naxos recording was captured in a church and creates the perfect ambience for this music.

Uncle Dave Lewis, February 2010

This Naxos release, Ligeti: String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2, is the debut recording of the Parker Quartet, a group founded in 2002 and based in Boston; it is named after the Omni Parker House, a Boston landmark that has been in operation since 1855. One might wonder why this comparatively newly minted group would take on such a tough assignment as Ligeti’s quartet literature for its first recording and it is mainly because it is a fearless, well-disciplined, and supremely confident quartet. Ligeti’s music seems to appeal to the group’s youthful impetuousness and the Parker Quartet has more than an ample amount of muscle, self control, and sensitivity to have mastered these highly dynamic and challenging twentieth century quartets. The Second Quartet is particularly difficult; there is a spot in the first movement Allegro nervoso where the quartet is already very busy playing rapid figures at a sub-pianissimo level and has to switch—at a mere bar line’s notice—to fortissimo without essentially changing what notes are being played. The Parker Quartet performs this audio equivalent to a cinematic jump cut on a hairpin, and throughout the music is completely well elucidated with no fuss, no muss, expert precision, and a considerable flair for drama. The Parker Quartet brings the same level of care and attention to everything on the program, even the simpler and more modestly stated Andante and Allegretto that conclude the album. While not recorded as often as, say, Beethoven’s late cycle of quartets, the full-length Ligeti quartets have gotten plenty of attention on disc, yet this Naxos release with the Parker Quartet seems just as good if not better than any of the other recordings that include both quartets. Doubtless the Parker Quartet is a group to keep an ear out for.

David Weininger
The Boston Globe, January 2010

The Parker Quartet is one of four ensembles to have come out of New England Conservatory’s prestigious Professional String Quartet Training Program. Like the other three, the Parker—which graduated from the program in 2008 and whose members were also undergraduates at NEC—has started down the often treacherous path of being a full-time, professional quartet.

The quartet recently released its second CD: the two string quartets of Hungarian composer György Ligeti, along with an early Andante and Allegretto (Naxos). If these recordings are anything to go by, the Parker’s future is bright indeed. Both quartets consist of knotty, difficult music. The first, written in the mid-1950s, takes off from Bartok and is full of the older master’s angular melodies, jarring rhythms, and crunchy dissonances; the second—one of Ligeti’s best-known chamber pieces—unveils a kaleidoscope of unusual textures.

The Parkers tear through this music with both pinpoint precision and a spectacular sense of urgency. Whether the music floats or pounds, they play with a confidence of those speaking a native language.

The quartet’s website features two videos made at the recording sessions, and for all the music’s nervous intensity, the Parker Quartet’s members seem to radiate an air of calm mastery over it. For years, the preferred recording of these two works has been that by the Arditti String Quartet in Sony’s Ligeti Edition; this is the first real competition to come along, as the Parkers match them at virtually every turn.

Hopefully the quartet, currently in its second season in residence with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, will soon make a visit to its old stomping ground. Until then, this excellent CD will serve as proof positive of its potential., January 2010

The works on these three CDs, all of them nominally chamber music, exist in very different sound worlds—but all of them reflect, in their own ways…The performers, all Czech by training, handle both the grand sweep and the small details of this music with ease and understanding, producing a CD that argues effectively for Dvořák’s importance as a composer of piano quartets, even though he wrote but two of them. And the players do a top-notch job of contrasting the earlier, somewhat more superficial work with the later and deeper one.

Mark Stryker
Detroit Free Press, January 2010

The String Quartet No. 1 (1953–54) starts where Bartók leaves off, offering souped-up layers of tangy modalities, asymmetric rhythms, fierce attacks and constantly shifting sonic textures. In the more radical Second Quartet (1968), traditional melody, harmony and meter are replaced by a bewitching sound world of distilled textures, densities, colors, irregular pulse and acoustic instruments that seemingly pine to sound electronic.

The Andante and Allegretto (1950) is an early work whose tight construction, songful opening and folkish finale remind you how grounded Ligeti was in the tradition.

The Parker Quartet brings a secure technique and hot-blooded feeling to the music, balancing lyrical expression with supersonic energy when needed. And the quartet never loses its equilibrium.

Zachary Lewis
Cleveland Plain Dealer, December 2009

No one wrote string quartets like Ligeti. A wizard of string effects, the Hungarian pushed instruments to extremes and expanded the genre greatly by unveiling new possibilities of texture and color along the spectrum from violent agitation to pure serenity. It’s challenging music, but the Parker Quartet ensures a vibrant, invigorating experience. Included on the disc are the two complete quartets plus two earlier pieces, revealing both the master’s first and last thoughts in the medium. Grade: A

David Denton
David's Review Corner, December 2009

Critical acclaim has followed the Parker Quartet around the world, this disc endorsing the New York Times comment that they are “something extraordinary”. Ligeti’s many technically challenges simply vanish in their hands, and as they tear into the opening movement of the first quartet, you can well imagine that the brilliance they create could even find favour among music’s conventionalists. Given the subtitle, Métamorphoses nocturnes, Ligeti owes a debt to his compatriot, Bartók, not least in its volatile nature, the interplay between instruments here finding pinpoint accuracy, the second movement prestissimo a exhibition of outgoing brilliance. Surprisingly the strongly rhythmic finale ends in peaceful resignation. Fourteen years later, in 1968, Ligeti used these wide mood swings and extended dynamics to an even greater degree. It is a work dominated by drama, those fast degenerating dynamics and flashes of light creating moments of contained musical chaos. It contrasts with the exactitude that characterises the third movement, Come un meccanismo di precisione, the Parker’s quiet moments becoming a mere whisper. A brutal Presto furioso and a following Allegro—marked to be delicate—complete the score. They were the only completed quartets, but he later agreed to publish an early Andante and Allegretto, a melodic piece from a bygone era. There has long been an essential recording from the Arditti Quartet who were closely linked with Ligeti’s music, but they cannot be preferred to the Parker’s magnificent performances, the church acoustic helping the explosive moments. One of Naxos’s finest chamber music issues.

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