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With Strings Attached / San Francisco Choral Artists, Alexander String Quartet

Krausas / San Francisco Choral Artists
Release Date: 02/14/2012 
Label:  Foghorn Classics   Catalog #: 2006   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Veronika KrausasStephen LeekJohannes BrahmsMichael Gandolfi,   ... 
Conductor:  Magen Solomon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Alexander String QuartetSan Francisco Choral Artists
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 9 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews



WITH STRINGS ATTACHED Magen Solomon, dir; San Francisco Choral Artists; Alexander Str Qrt; Lawrence Ferlinghetti (narr) FOGHORN 2006 (68:55 & )


KRAUSAS Language of the Birds. LEEK Hollow Stone. BRAHMS 4 Quartets, op. 92. Ballade in D. Read more Intermezzo in A. BEETHOVEN Elegiac Song. GANDOLFI Winter Light. CHIHARA Clair de lune


This studio recording grew out of live performances in the San Francisco area during May 2011 to celebrate the San Francisco Choral Artists’ 25th anniversary season. Alexander “Sandy” Wilson, the quartet’s cellist and founder, chose to commemorate this collaboration by making this recording. It was a fortuitous decision.


With the exception of six pieces by Brahms and one by Beethoven, all of the music on this disc is new, and all of the new pieces are extremely interesting. Perhaps the most interesting, certainly one of the most arresting, is Veronika Krausas’s Language of the Birds, inspired by an outdoor sculpture created by Brian Goggin and Dorka Keehn that stands in front of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights bookstore. Wilson was able to convince Ferlinghetti himself, 92 years old at the time of recording, to read the lines from his poetry for the recording. Krausas’s music is modal with frequent chromatic shifts, rhythmically buoyant, and with occasional sweeping lyric passages for both chorus and strings. I am particularly taken by the second piece, “In Golden Gate Park That Day,” where Krausas’s music has much of the same floating, mystical quality as some of the works of Henryk Gorécki and Peteris V?sks. One of the more arresting qualities of this performance is the way in which the Choral Artists are able to focus their tone so as to sound brighter and less lush, whereas the string quartet plays with a fullness reminiscent of a chamber orchestra. The jaunty 6/8 rhythm (occasionally broken up) of the third piece, “I Saw One of Them,” is offset by the B?-Minor harmonies, while “The Changing Light” refracts the close harmonies of string quartet and chorus into a sound reminiscent of a pale light gently cutting through the fog. No two ways about it, this is absolutely remarkable and highly creative music.


Stephen Leek’s Hollow Stone, says the composer, was inspired by a line by Australian poet Randolph Stow, “Sleep, all who are silent, make me a hollow stone,” and is dedicated to both Solomon and the San Francisco Choral Artists. Leek describes the piece as evoking “a landscape of the smoky Australian desert bushland still smoldering after a recent brushfire.” This piece, sung mostly a cappella by the chorus, begins with a wordless passage and also has a strong affinity to the music of V?sks, particularly his masterpiece Plainscapes. It turns out that this is not altogether coincidental, as Leek admits, “There is a definite undercurrent of earthly spirituality.” Here, too, the usual creamy blend of the chorus is much more of a positive element in the performance. The gentle whisper of a high solo violin makes itself felt rather than really heard during the closing minute of the piece.


After such highly inventive modern pieces, the transcriptions of Brahms’s Four Quartets by first violinist Zakarias Grafilo do not disturb the mood but sound almost incongruously old-fashioned, as if the performance suddenly shifted centuries. The music is quite good but, except for the last song (“Warum?”), more pleasant than surprising or highly creative. Nonetheless, the chorus and quartet perform with a tremendous amount of warmth and affection.


Beethoven’s rare and little-known Elegiac Song was written for his longest-lasting landlord, Johann Baptist von Pasqualati, on the third anniversary of the death of his wife. The music, though short (only five minutes long), has the same kind of heartfelt quality and slow harmonic movement of some of Beethoven’s late quartet writing. Again, the performance by these joint artists is an extremely fine one, heartfelt and with good dynamic contrasts.


I am a bit less enamored of Michael Gandolfi’s Winter Light, possibly because I sense more of a rock and Minimalist influence, and I heartily dislike both forms of music. Moreover, either due to the specific writing for the strings or intonation problems, I am very displeased by what I hear as off-key playing by the quartet in the first piece, “Falling Snow.”


I am even less pleased with Grafilo’s transcriptions for string quartet of Brahms’s piano pieces, not because the transcriptions are not good but because the use of strings in this essentially easy-listening style of Brahms makes it sound even more like Muzak.


Fortunately, the album ends with Paul Chihara’s Clair de lune, inspired by Verlaine’s famous poem; the composer associates it with dancing and therefore with the San Francisco Ballet. It is an absolutely gorgeous piece in the mid 20th-century French style of Poulenc but with numerous individual touches and passages of constantly moving chromatics. Here, the quartet and chorus complement each other with disparate musical statements rather than attempting to coalesce as in Krausas’s work. One of the most remarkable passages in it, in fact, is the dancing bitonal melody in the middle, where both the string quartet and the chorus support the music’s essential buoyancy. Falling glissandi in the strings and chromatics in the choral writing bring the quiet finale to earth.


Although this album was recorded in a church (St. Stephen’s Episcopal in Belvedere, California), the sound quality is not nearly as roomy or over-reverberant as one might think, which is all to the good. With so much of this music being of a particularly delicacy, having more room around the voices and instruments would have ruined the effect and blurred the clarity of lines. This is one of the good ones!


FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

1.
Language of the birds, for narrator, chorus & string quartet by Veronika Krausas
Conductor:  Magen Solomon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Alexander String Quartet,  San Francisco Choral Artists
Period: Contemporary 
Venue:  St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Belveder 
Length: 1 Minutes 22 Secs. 
2.
Hollow Stone, for chorus & string quartet by Stephen Leek
Conductor:  Magen Solomon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Alexander String Quartet,  San Francisco Choral Artists
Period: Contemporary 
Venue:  St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Belveder 
Length: 9 Minutes 1 Secs. 
3.
Vocal Quartets (4), Op. 92 by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Magen Solomon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Alexander String Quartet,  San Francisco Choral Artists
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1877-1884; Austria 
Venue:  St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Belveder 
Length: 9 Minutes 15 Secs. 
4.
Winter Light, for chorus & string quartet by Michael Gandolfi
Conductor:  Magen Solomon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Alexander String Quartet,  San Francisco Choral Artists
Period: Contemporary 
Venue:  St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Belveder 
Length: 9 Minutes 20 Secs. 
5.
Ballades (4) for Piano, Op. 10: no 2 in D major by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Magen Solomon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Alexander String Quartet,  San Francisco Choral Artists
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1854; Germany 
Venue:  St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Belveder 
Length: 5 Minutes 6 Secs. 
6.
Pieces (6) for Piano, Op. 118: no 2, Intermezzo in A major by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Magen Solomon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Alexander String Quartet,  San Francisco Choral Artists
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892; Austria 
Venue:  St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Belveder 
Length: 6 Minutes 21 Secs. 
7.
Clair de lune, for chorus & string quartet by Paul Chihara
Conductor:  Magen Solomon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Alexander String Quartet,  San Francisco Choral Artists
Period: Contemporary 
Venue:  St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Belveder 
Length: 8 Minutes 31 Secs. 
8.
Elegischer Gesang, Op. 118 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Period: Classical 
Written: 1814; Vienna, Austria 
Venue:  St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Belveder 
Length: 5 Minutes 15 Secs. 

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