Notes and Editorial Reviews
String Quartets: No. 1,
“In Praise of Poor Scholars”;
COLD BLUE 31 (51: 31)
“Is that all there is?” asked Peggy Lee in a Lieber and Stoller song that she made famous, and one might ask a similar question after hearing Peter Garland’s two string quartets. Garland (b. 1952) studied with James Tenney and Harold Budd, and composes in a style that has been described as
“post-minimalist,” although I am not exactly sure what that signifies. He enjoyed a long friendship with Lou Harrison (who called the String Quartet No. 1 “the most beautiful thing since Corelli,” and finally we are getting somewhere in the “sounds like” game, because both of Garland’s string quartets (but especially the First) sound like the intersection between Tenney, Budd, and Harrison. (Garland’s long-standing interest in Native American music also informs this similarity.)
Composed in 1986, the String Quartet No. 1 takes its subtitle from a poem by T’ao Ch’ien, a Chinese poet who lived during the Eastern Jin dynasty more than 1,500 years ago. The Quartet was commissioned by Betty Freeman, and dedicated to Tenney and Tenney’s wife Ann Holloway, as well as to the memory of Dane Rudhyar. There are six movements, all under five minutes in length, and all with rather Harrison-like titles such as “Rondeau ‘nouveau’” and “Like an elegant slow dance.” Unlike John Luther Adams’s
The Place We Began
, another Cold Blue Music title I have reviewed, there is nothing about Garland’s quartets that challenges established ideas about what music is, although not everyone will appreciate the music’s lack of traditional eventfulness. To return to my thought at the start of this review, Garland’s music poses few harmonic or rhythmic difficulties, and runs the risk of being thought simple. The complexity lies in the music’s melodic progress, which seems to be governed by logic other than that of Western music.
There’s more surface variety in the String Quartet No. 2, begun in 1994, while the composer was staying near a temple on the Japanese island of Sado. “Crazy Cloud” was the nickname of poet and priest Ikkyu, who was active during the 1400s. The first movement is named “Sado,” and the second “Mori” (the blind courtesan and singer who became Ikkyu’s lover). From there we move to “Sueño en el Rio Grande” (title of a song by Las Hermanas Padilla, a classic Mexican sister act), “Blues for Helena” (after dedicatee Helena de Carvalho Tietjen), and “From the Mountains, Returning to the City,” (a poem by Ikkyu). Again, there’s nothing intrinsically difficult about this music, except that it goes where it wants to, and when it wants to. To use a literary analogy, it’s in English, but it’s as if someone took a familiar short story and rearranged all the words. Like its discmate, this quartet doesn’t sound like much the first few times through, but the more I listen to it, the more it grows on me, losing little of its strangeness, but gaining in attraction. The phrase “radical consonance” has been used to describe Garland’s music, and I think it is an apt choice of words.
Apartment House was founded in 1995, and is devoted to experimental and avant-garde music. Its membership varies from work to work, but this time around it is a string quartet whose members are violinists Gordon MacKay and Hilary Sturt, violist Bridget Carey, and cellist Anton Lukoszevieze. They play these works assertively, as if they were by Beethoven—and why not? There’s also a sense of dedication here—not to mention tonal allure—that suits Garland’s music well. Good engineering, and (thanks to the composer) more booklet information than is usually the case with Cold Blue.
FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
Works on This Recording
Quartet for Strings no 2 "Crazy cloud" by Peter Garland
Hilary Sturt (Violin),
Gordon Mackay (Violin),
Anton Lukoszevieze (Cello),
Bridget Carey (Viola)
Period: 20th Century
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