The Escher Quartet plays Barber and Ives

For their latest offering the members of the New York-based Escher Quartet have chosen string quartets by Samuel Barber and Charles Ives.

The second movement of Barber’s String Quartet in B minor, contains the music that he later expanded into the famous Adagio for Strings. Barber flippantly described the piece as ‘a knock-out’ even though he decided to make the quartet a two-movement work presumably to spare his ever busy self any further hard work. Here the Escher Quartet has included the movement that the composer discarded.

The Quartet plays rapturously with its usual full, deep sound, delivering a moving performance of Barber’s music, lively in the opening Allegro, lyrical and emotional in the second movement, razor sharp and decisive in the closing Allegro. In the discarded third movement the question “why” looms large, given the abundance of compositional ideas that it contains.

Barber is followed by a couple of quartets by Charles Ives, as well as a brief set of 3 Short Pieces: titled “Holding Your Own”!

Like many other compositions by Ives, his First Quartet makes extensive use of revival and gospel hymns, quoting them in all four movements, at times tonally, while the quirky Second Quartet is described by its composer as a portrayal of “… men who converse, discuss, argue, fight, shake hands, shut up, and then walk up the mountainside to view the firmament.”

Both works deserve wider exposure than what they usually get in concerts of 20th century chamber music for the select few. Here they are given muscular, bold readings that alternate with sections of surprising lyricism.

The BIS-2360 recording gets the usual TLC from BIS’ Recording Engineers.

Rafael de Acha       ALL ABOUT THE ARTS