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Beethoven, Shostakovich, Et Al / American String Project

Release Date: 05/08/2007 
Label:  Msr   Catalog #: 1226   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Ludwig van BeethovenDmitri ShostakovichPablo de Sarasate
Orchestra/Ensemble:  American String Project
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 13 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BEETHOVEN (arr. Lieberman) String Quartet No. 4. SHOSTAKOVICH (arr. Lieberman) String Quartet No. 12. SARASATE Caprice basque. Romanza andaluza. Ziguenerweisen The American Str Project MSR 1226 (73:07)

The American String Project is an annual festival that brings together prominent string-players to form a 15-member Read more orchestra—five first violins, four second violins, three violas, two cellos, and double bass—who perform original works and arrangements without conductor. The brainchild of the husband-wife team, Barry Lieberman and Maria Larionoff, The American String Project has presented concerts in Seattle since 2002. The ensemble is led by the concert master/mistress, a role taken by a different violinist in each piece. This MSR release is their first recording.

Transcriptions for larger ensembles of the quartet literature inevitably run the risk of sounding bloated and perhaps a little clumsy. Happily, this is not the case here in either the Beethoven or Shostakovich quartets (both arranged by Lieberman) due, I suspect, to the respective leadership of Eriko Sato and Maria Larionoff. In the first movement of the Beethoven the targeted attacks of the sforzandos are particularly virtuosic. The minuet is perfectly poised and the last movement invigoratingly fleet. Listeners interested in other samplings of “enlarged” classical quartets may enjoy the Smithsonian Chamber Players’s probative reading of Beethoven’s op. 95 (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 77374), transcribed by Mahler.

The anguished intimacy of the 12th Shostakovich Quartet becomes, in this performance, an ominously threatening landscape: a tradeoff of expressive means, certainly, but an interesting one that seems to close the distance between the Soviet composer’s quartet and symphonic methods. The extended second movement, more than 20 minutes in duration, teeters between the powerful and terrifying. The fortissimo unison pizzacatos followed by shrieking, upward slashing glissandos are little short of hair-raising. This remarkable performance has a compelling sweep that might well be envied by many a conventional string quartet.

Stephanie Chase leads the three Sarasate pieces, which she also arranged. The Caprice basque is a set of virtuoso variations, à la Paganini, running a gamut of pizzacato, spiccato, col lengno, arpeggiando , and enharmonic effects, accomplished here with great élan. The more relaxed Romanza andaluza provides the opportunity for lovely tempo rubato within a languid dance. The sure-fire Ziguenerweisen scores a dead-center bull’s eye in visceral pyrotechnic display that’s simultaneously riveting and enormous fun. All the Sarasate pieces feature cameos for various soloists, who play off one another in bravura virtuoso flourishes.

The technical values of this live performance recording—made in June 2006 in Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall at Seattle’s Benaroya Hall—are superb. Let’s hope there will be more recordings from these imaginative, accomplished musicians.

FANFARE: Patrick Rucker
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Works on This Recording

Quartet for Strings no 4 in C minor, Op. 18 no 4 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Orchestra/Ensemble:  American String Project
Written: 1798/1800 
Length: 25 Minutes 31 Secs. 
Notes: Arranger: Barry Lieberman. 
Quartet for Strings no 12 in D flat major, Op. 133 by Dmitri Shostakovich
Orchestra/Ensemble:  American String Project
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1968; USSR 
Length: 27 Minutes 18 Secs. 
Notes: Arrangers: Barry Lieberman; Stephanie Chase. 
Caprice basque, Op. 24 by Pablo de Sarasate
Orchestra/Ensemble:  American String Project
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1881 
Length: 6 Minutes 2 Secs. 
Notes: Arranger: Stephanie Chase. 
Spanish Dances (2) for Violin and Piano, Op. 22: no 1, Romanza andaluza by Pablo de Sarasate
Orchestra/Ensemble:  American String Project
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1879 
Length: 4 Minutes 52 Secs. 
Notes: Arranger: Stephanie Chase. 
Zigeunerweisen, Op. 20 by Pablo de Sarasate
Orchestra/Ensemble:  American String Project
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1878 
Length: 9 Minutes 20 Secs. 
Notes: Arranger: Stephanie Chase. 

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