The Lydian String Quartet

The Lyds play the first movement Maestoso — Allegro of Beethoven's Quartet in E Flat Major, Op. 127 (video taken in The Center For the Arts in Natick, MA, March 28, 2010).

Recordings (Classical, Romantic, Early Modern)

Centaur: 3212/3213/3214
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These distinguished readings are full of subtlety, tonal refinement, and a sense of accumulated musical wisdom.The group's choices in phrasing and articulation, as in the Quartet Op. 135, can on occasion make familiar passages seem freshly reconsidered. That said, there's also no chasing after effect. Even in the most violent stretches of the "Grosse Fuge," the Lydian steers clear of tonal extremes, the kind of expressionism avant la lettre that some ensembles read back into this music. In Op. 127, the music's links to tradition come across as palpably as its revolutionary qualities. The famed Op. 132 is dominated by a prayerful reading of its sublime slow movement. This set, in short, is the work of veteran chamber musicians who have not lost their capacity for wonder at what Stepner describes as "Beethoven's burning need to communicate an exalted, complex, life-affirming vision of musical possibility." Jeremy Eichler, The Boston Globe

JOHANNES BRAHMS: Brahms Live At Brandeis (Piano Quintet in F minor and Viola Quintet in G major, with Sally Pinkas, piano, and Betty Hauck, viola)
Brandeis University label, CD reprint available from the Quartet

In recorded live performances, the Lydian Quartet is joined in Brahms' magnificent Piano Quintet by Sally Pinkas, whose recording of Fauré's Thirteen Nocturnes was named one of the 2002's best CDs by the Boston Globe; for his rich hued Viola Quintet in G major the Quartet is joined by violist Betty Hauck, who with her ensemble Washington Musica Viva has been hailed for fine collaborative musicmaking by the Washington Post.

GABRIEL FAURE: La Bonne Chanson, with Sanford Sylvan, baritone, and David Breitman, piano
Nonesuch 79371
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This disc was nominated for the 1997 Grammy Award for Best Classical Vocal Performance. The disc has been beautifully planned and executed. There are two song cycles, La Bonne Chanson, in the version for singer, piano and string quartet, and L'Horizon chimerique, [Fauré's] final work for voice (1921). Fauré is a composer subtle, elusive and precise, and Sylvan has learned that the most effective approach is to sing the music as simply, directly and meaningfully as possible; to attempt anything else is to make the strength of the songs evaporate into preciousness. The Lydian Quartet makes a supple contribution to La Bonne Chanson. This is a beautiful record that repays close attention to the details the performers have approached with such informed awareness; for once Fauré doesn't disappear into the misty horizon, and he is really there. Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe

CHARLES IVES: The String Quartets
Centaur CRC 2069
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If you doubt that Ives the experimenter was also a gifted craftsman, listen to the First String Quartet, written when he was a sophomore at Yale. The opening movement, a stately fugue with a theme adapted from ''Missionary Hymn,'' is impressively wrought. The whole quartet abounds with imagination and hints of what was to come. The performance to have is the Lydian String Quartet's, recorded in 1988, on a rewarding disc that includes a bracing account of the more mature and out-there Second Quartet. Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times

This is one of the great string quartet recordings, catching the Lydian Quartet in its recent prime in music it feels in the marrow of its bones. The CD also seems to be the first to contain the complete music for string quartet by Charles Ives, which means that two short pieces called Hymn and Hallowe'en complete the two canonical quartets. The only possible response to this CD was to play it all over again. And again. Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe

LEO ORNSTEIN: String Quartet No. 3, Piano Quintet, with Janice Weber, piano
New World Records: 80509
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These two chamber works express a distinct preference for a surging emotionalism over carefully chiseled argument or niceties of joinery. One hears Ornstein sailing from one pungency to the next, all oozing Slavic soul... A most attractive release and, for the right listener, a real discovery. Fanfare

The Lydian String Quartet with pianist Janice Weber charge in with volcanic energy that sounds like an orchestra rather than a chamber group, and their intensity never lets up. In the fast music, they have all the barbaric splendor one could ask for; in the slow music they play with great tenderness. The recorded sound is big and bold. This is the most revelatory CD to come my way this year. American Record Guide

VINCENT PERSICHETTI: The Four String Quartets
Centaur: 2833
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The four string quartets that Persichetti composed between 1939 and 1972 are woefully under performed, and this 2006 release from Centaur stands alone, much to the embarrassment of other labels that have not yet touched this fine material. Thankfully, the Lydian String Quartet is completely sympathetic to this overlooked quartet cycle and fully capable of traversing its many flavors, moods, and styles... The Lydian String Quartet's addition to Persichetti's catalog is an important contribution, and this excellent CD should be noted by all major string quartets and their recording companies with envy. Blair Sanderson, All Music Guide

Kudos are due the Lydian Quartet for rescuing Persichetti's quartets from undeserved obscurity. Mark L. Lehman, American Record Guide

FRANZ SCHUBERT: Death and the Maiden (song and string quartet), and Quartet in B Flat, with Mary Westbrook-Geha, mezzo-soprano
Centaur: 2186
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This work holds a special place in the repertory of the Lydian Quartet, which has played it often and made one of the best modern recordings (on Centaur). Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe

The Lydian is at its very best on the Schubert disk: passionate, eloquent, tightly knit and well in tune. Josiah Fisk, Boston Herald

WILLIAM SCHUMAN: String Quartets Nos. 2, 3, and 5
harmonia mundi: HMU 907114 (out of print)

The shamefully neglected string quartets of William Schuman are revived here in all their forward thinking, astringent glory by the Lydian Quartet. Schumann's music, like that of fellow American composer Aaron Copland, has a larger-than-life quality that benefits from the warm romanticism of the Lydian. These performances are full of verve and impact, especially the tense, powerful Quartet No. 2, the best of this collection. The Lydian Quartet plays beautifully here, with a precision and involvement marking them as among the world's best quartets. The fire and intricacy of Schumann's writing is elegantly juxtaposed by the elegant lyricism of his slow movements, showcased by the Lydian. Also enhancing the majesty of this disc is the nigh-perfect recording quality from Harmonia Mundi. Combined with warm reverberations of the recording location, the natural quality of the sound places you there with the Lydian. An impeccable performance of the acclaimed Quartet No. 3, combined with the strong performances of the previously unavailable Quartets No. 2 and 5, make this wild-eyed recommendation automatic. Kevin M. Williams, Chicago Sun-Times

William Schuman was the leading mover and shaker in the world of American musical politics - the guiding force behind the Juilliard School of Music and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts for decades. But we are in danger of forgetting that he was a first-rate composer as well. A new CD of three of his string quartets (Harmonia Mundi France 907114) brims over with the rousing energy that marks Mr. Schuman's symphonies. The Quartet No. 5, written at age 77, is a masterpiece as spiritual as anything in late Beethoven, and the Lydian String Quartet plays it commandingly. Lawson Taitte, The Dallas Morning News

Schuman wrote five string quartets but withdrew his first. The three recorded here span a half century -- from 1937 to 1987 -- and reveal an immediate and creative grasp of the medium. The Lydian String Quartet performs with vigor, each voice clean and bright and the overall ensemble balanced on an immaculate Harmonia Mundi compact disc. Kurt Loft, Tampa Tribune

HAROLD SHAPERO: String Quartet, Serenade in D for String Quintet, String Trio (with Edwin Barker, double bass, Serenade)
New World Records: 80569
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... the revelation of this recording is the 35-minute serenade, originally scored for string orchestra. Mr. Shapero produced the version for string quintet recorded here to make the intricate inner voices and skittish rhythms more audible. The music, though as lucid as Haydn's, has a modernist allure, stemming from Mr. Shapero's daring manipulations of classical structures, full of abrupt turns and aborted gestures, and the intensity of his chromatic harmonic language. Yet for all its Neo-Classical niceties, the piece exudes a street-smart urbanity that is vintage Shapero. The dynamic musicians of the Lydian String Quartet are joined by the bassist Edwin Barker in the serenade. All three works receive assured and engrossing performances. Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times

The members of the Lydian String Quartet, joined by Edwin Barker, double bass, in the Serenade, do a marvelous job of presenting this rich music with passion and elegance. The recording by New World is superbly lifelike. Peter Burwasser, Fanfare

This is a landmark recording of Shapero's major chamber works and deserves to be listened to by all those who enjoy music that is both modern and traditional whilst never being dull or uninteresting. Shapero's time will come. A great neo-classicist to rival Poulenc and even Stravinsky himself. John France, Musicweb International

Recordings (Modern after 1945)

ALLEN ANDERSON: String Quartet (1990)
CRI / New World Records: NWCR727
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[Allen Anderson's] String Quartet is a well-crafted, three-movement, post-Bartók affair... Anderson is quite good at suggesting that there's an underlying presence - an emotional and not merely structural meaning - attached to every rhythmic gesture, melodic twist, and harmonic modulation; he avoids common touches and never writes busywork in order to fill up space. ...there's no doubt Anderson has found a voice which is well served by these talented performers. Art Lange, Fanfare

Bang On A Can Vol. 3, CRI / New World Records: NWCR672
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Linda Bouchard's Lung Ta came in five movements and a coda, with elements of world music about it that might be excerptable, say, for Andy Kershaw's influential BBC radio show, but also the formal satisfactions (brevity, pacing, point) of solid writing for the string quartet medium, along with those of a effects-and-new-sonorities sound piece. A strong and attractive personality was evident in it. Richard Buell, The Boston Globe

... galloping repetitions of notes with treble flourishes and sudden changes in meter to evoke Tibetan wind horses, animals that carry prayers to heaven. Edward Rothstein, The New York Times

MARTIN BOYKAN: String Quartet No. 3 (1984)
Albany Records: TROY1196
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MARTIN BOYKAN: String Quartet No. 4 (1996)
CRI / New World Records: NWCR786
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there's much to admire here in resplendent craftsmanship, communicative urgency, and even lyricism (of its kind); and I can second annotator Martin Brody's praise of the boldness and scope of Boykan's 'nuanced and volatile' music... the [Fourth Quartet] (though certainly unremittingly serious) gains a sense of deepening calm from its structure as a progression from a (mostly) agitated opening Vigoroso to a (mostly) contemplative adagio espressivo conclusion. The Quartet in particular is a work of absolute integrity that slowly but inexorably reveals great depth of feeling... Performances are skillful and devoted, recording excellent. This is a disc that will reward many hearings, and I hope it will soon be followed by a program of Boykan's earlier chamber music. Mark L. Lehman, American Record Guide

PETER CHILD: String Quartet No. 1 (1987)
Neuma 450-98
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With the String Quartet of Peter Child, receiving its premiere, the Lydian's hospitality to the new brought a highly satisfying return. This is a strong, serious piece that knows what it means and knows how to say it. The dramatic shapes in it are beautifully meshed, and a sense of creative, generative momentum runs all through it, leading the listener on irresistibly. This Quartet was the genuine article, likewise the spirited, cogent performance. One felt honored to be there. Richard Buell, The Boston Globe

PETER CHILD: String Quartet No. 2 (1989)
New World Records: 80594
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When Andrew Ernst Gombosi was born on March 7, 1987, his parents, Peter and Carolyn, decided to do something special to commemorate this special occasion: they commissioned a string quartet from composer Peter Child. It was a nice idea and Child has produced a nice quartet, as sweet, obstreperous and surprising as any proper baby ought to be... The performance was skillful, devoted and entertaining, and this was obviously an Occasion; the audience entered into the spirit of things and repeatedly recalled the Lydian Quartet to the stage and the players, in turn, repeatedly beckoned Child to rise from his chair. Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe

MOHAMMED FAIROUZ: Lamentation And Satire for String Quartet (2008)
Sono Luminus: DSL92146
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a fierce, abrasive string quartet splendidly performed by the Lydian String Quartet. Joshua Kosman, The San Francisco Chronicle

There's also more than a whisper of Schoenberg in the angular passages of "Lamentation" for string quartet, a work played on the CD with particular ardor by the Lydian Quartet. Christian Carey, (January 2012)

IRVING FINE: String Quartet (1952)
Nonesuch: 9 79175-2
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The name of Irving Fine (1914-62) may be unknown to many younger concertgoers and record collectors, but the Boston-born composer was an important presence on the local scene most of his adult life. Like Virgil Thomson and Elliott Carter before him, Fine studied at Harvard and then went to Paris to work with Nadia Boulanger; after his return he taught for many years at his alma mater and then, later, at Brandeis. From the sound of his music, Fine was no musty academic figure, but the protection of the academic world enabled him to write music of unusual refinement of detail and distinction of style; other figures in the history of music that he corresponds to are Faure and Frank Martin. The works Nonesuch has assembled on this CD make a persuasive case for the permanent value of Fine's accomplishment. Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe

Irving Fine was one of those composers of the 1950s much admired by his colleagues and little known by the concert public, but his music, whether in the Stravinskian neo-classical vein or the Schoenberian serial vein, possesses an integrity that is standing the test of time.

Nonesuch has assembled splendid performers to serve it (the New York Chamber Symphony, conducted by Gerard Schwarz, in the case of the Notturno, the New York Woodwind Quintet in the case of the Partita, the Lydian Quartet in case of the String Quartet and the Cantata Singers in the case of The Hour-Glass) and then gone to to trouble of recording them sympathetically. William Littler, Toronto Star

CHARLES FUSSELL: Being Music, for baritone & string quartet (1996); with Sanford Sylvan, baritone
Koch International Classics: 3-7338-2-A1
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North Carolina-born Charles Fussell has long been a leader of Boston's new-music scene. Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times

Being Music is another Walt Whitman setting by Fussell, this one for baritone and string quartet. Like the text, the music is florid and appallingly direct, full of life yet full of questions about the puzzle of being. Sylvan sings it fluently and expressively, with an unpretentious casualness that is also intent on meaning. His tonal beauty and spiritual density is matched by the work of the Lydian String Quartet. Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe

JOHN HARBISON: String Quartets 1 and 2; November 19, 1828
with Yehudi Wyner, piano

Harmonia Mundi France (out of print; Quartets 1 and 2 reissued on Centaur disc below)

The Lydian Quartet has recorded the first two string quartets by John Harbison and, with pianist Yehudi Wyner, Harbison's mesmerizing memorial to Schubert, November 18, 1828. The music and the performances are masterly; this is the new-music record I have played more often than any standard-repertory disc during the last year. Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe

These three pieces, played with tenacity and charm by the Lydian String Quartet, provide as reliable a sense of Harbison's music as any. Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle

JOHN HARBISON: String Quartet No. 3, Thanks, Victor, and The Rewaking, with Dominique Labelle, soprano
Musica Omnia 0110
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This impressive program, named for one of its four pieces, offers chamber and vocal works by John Harbison. The album, from the new Musica Omnia label, includes a fascinating extra disc with Mr. Harbison discussing the music and providing illustrations on piano and recorded excerpts. Top Ten Classical albums of the year, 2001, Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times

This year's best CD's, 2001 - Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe

An especially worthwhile issue. Stephen Johnson, BBC Music Magazine

JOHN HARBISON: The First Four String Quartets
Centaur, CRC 2985 (new release, 2009)
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And finally, the Lydian Quartet has released a new CD on Centaur devoted to the first four quartets of John Harbison, written over nearly two decades. This is richly conceived, passionately executed music that seems at once steeped in the genre's deep traditions and determined to say something freshly personal. The Third Quartet was actually written for the Lydians but they play with bite and authority throughout this disc, as if they owned the lot of them. Jeremy Eichler, The Boston Globe | Link to review

One of America's most decorated and accomplished composers, John Harbison has composed works for virtually every traditional genre as well as countless works for outside-the-box ensembles. His First Four String Quartets, composed between 1984 and 2002, are a testament to his exploratory nature coupled with a reverence and respect for what has come before. Hints of Britten, Shostakovich, Bartók, and especially Bach abound throughout the four quartets, yet his own unique voice is unmistakable. Harbison delves into new territory with his conception of rhythmic relationships, harmony, tonality, and melody, yet his music is not only accessible, but quite enjoyable to even the novice listener. With this exploration of sound and technique comes great demands on the players to deliver in such a way that listeners are focusing on the music, not on its difficulty. The Lydian String Quartet, often recognized for its successful coupling of traditional repertoire as well as new compositions, is perfectly suited for Harbison's works. The Third Quartet was commissioned for the group in 1993 and the performance of it and the remaining three on this Centaur album is exemplary. Every detail of Harbison's scores is precisely executed without making for mere technical performances. The Lydian produces a wealth of tone colors and soundscapes, a broad palate of dynamics, and an abundance of articulation variety. Balance within the quartet is superb, allowing for the often active inner voices to be clearly audible while not obscuring the primary melody. Listeners not already familiar with Harbison's works and especially his string quartets would do well to add this disc to their collections.
Mike Brownell, All Music Guide | Link to review

LEE HYLA: String Quartet Nos. 2 and 3 (on album We Speak Etruscan)
New World Records: 80491
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[Hyla's] music sounds as modernistic as anybody's, with its nervous rhythms, wildly zigzagging lines, dissonance-saturated harmonies, bold discontinuities and buzzsaw power that hark back to his days as a keyboard player in rock bands. Yet for all the tensile energy of his music, the five works on a recent New World Records CD titled We Speak Etruscan have visceral structural impact... The Lydian String Quartet gives engrossing accounts of Mr. Hyla's jittery String Quartet No. 2 and his more pensive, one-movement String Quartet No. 3. Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times

LEE HYLA: String Quartet No. 4 (on album Wilson's Ivory-bill)
Tzadik: 8027
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The disc starts with the Lydian String Quartet tearing into the opening notes of Hyla's String Quartet #4 (1999) as if it had insulted their mother. It feels like we're in the middle of something already in progress, and it takes a moment for us to get our bearings. The music goes in fits and starts, but over time the fits get longer and the starts blur together. And after a couple of minutes the language starts to become clear and we can see where we're coming from, if not where we're being taken. Galen H. Brown,

M. WILLIAM KARLINS: Quintet for Alto Saxophone and String Quartet (1973-74), with Paul Bro, alto saxophone
Music from Northwestern, Volume 8 (1999)
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[MCA Classics, out of print]

STEVEN MACKEY: String Quartet (1987)
CRI: SD 526 (out of print LP record)

BOB NIESKE: Simplicity (Bob Nieske 3 and Lydian String Quartet)
Accurate Records: AC-5042
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Bassist Bob Nieske's trio makes airy, intimate, and lyrical free jazz that's easy to get next to. Nieske,trumpeter Phil Grenadier, and drummer Nat Mugavero are all careful listeners, which means the music can get busy without sounding crowded. But just as important, they can say a lot with a little. Each concise track on Simplicity packs an emotional wallop with a poetic minimum of notes... On six of the album's 13 tracks, the Lydian String Quartet joins the trio to provide harmonic thickening and richer coloration. Ed Hazell, Boston Phoenix

SEYMOUR SHIFRIN: Cantata to the Text of Sophoclean Choruses (1955-57) with the Cantata Singers, Harvard University Choir, David Hoose conducting
CRI SD 511 (out of print LP record)

YEHUDI WYNER: String Quartet (1985), Brandeis Sunday (1996) and other chamber music, Song Cycle On This Most Voluptuous Night, with soprano Dominique Labelle
New World Records: 80549
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The Lydian Quartet plays works by their longtime Pulitzer Prize winning collaborator.

The Lydian String Quartet takes center stage for the following Brandeis Sunday (1996), a work that instantly captivates through a throbbing drone that brings to mind the opening of Sibelius' Second Symphony. Then, in a complete surprise, the piece breaks out into an upbeat jazz rhythm for its remainder. Wyner's 1985 String Quartet is noticeably harsher in expression, employing a language that, although primarily atonal, contains occasional fleeting references to tonal centers and features sufficient textural and dramatic contrast to make it both emotionally involving and intellectually intriguing (it's this aspect of the work that brings to mind Alban Berg's powerful Lyric Suite)... all the music in this collection is of exceptionally high-quality, and it's played with utmost expertise and affection by the assembled performers. New World's recording vividly projects the players into your listening space. A most compelling release. Victor Carr Jr,

Recordings in production

GARDNER READ: Piano Quintet with John McDonald, piano

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