John Harbison: The FIrst Four String Quartets

Centaur, CRC 2985

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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

"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

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