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American Classics - Carter: String Quartets No 1 And 5

Release Date: 01/29/2008 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8559362   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Elliott Carter
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Pacifica String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 1 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Even Elliott Carter expresses his admiration for the Pacifica Quartet's mastery of his fiendishly difficult music (they play complete Carter quartet cycles in a single concert), so it's difficult to find anything of note to criticize here. Their precision and passion are equally amazing, and what rough edges there are, such as some of the extremely high writing for the two violins in the slow movement of the First Quartet, stems from Carter's treacherous writing, and is surely part of the overall experience. The balance and rhythmic accuracy in the intertwining melodies, for example, from around measure 290 onward in the same work's first movement are little short of mind-boggling. The music itself--complex, brilliant, gnarly, viciously Read more atonal, and even at times truly expressive (the aforesaid slow movement)--never will be popular, and isn't meant to be. But there can be no denying that Carter's harmonic language is perfectly suited to the rhythmic and contrapuntal structures that he explores in both of these works. It ensures independence of the various voices within an overall homogeneity and purity of style--he knows what he is doing.

Of course, there are a few somewhat gratuitous gimmicks here and there. The division of the First Quartet into sections separated by brief pauses that don't correspond to the actual endings of the various movements is a classic example of composing on paper. It's an idea that has no audible or expressive significance when listening. Similarly, the Fifth Quartet, with its succession of brief movements separated by Webernesque interludes, has a bit too much of a retrospective feel about it (assuming you know Carter's other quartets). It wants to develop into something more substantial and expansive. Still, this performance easily matches the premiere recording by the Arditti Quartet (likely out of print), and if you have an appetite for this music you'll look forward to the concluding disc in the cycle, which will contain Carter's finest work in the medium (the Second Quartet). The sonics are very good, if perhaps a touch close--but then, clarity of texture is paramount here and that's just what we get.

--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

Quartet for Strings no 1 by Elliott Carter
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Pacifica String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1950-1951; USA 
Date of Recording: 2007 
Venue:  Foellinger Hall, Krannert Center, Urbana 
Length: 39 Minutes 21 Secs. 
Quartet for Strings no 5 by Elliott Carter
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Pacifica String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1995; USA 
Date of Recording: 2007 
Venue:  Foellinger Hall, Krannert Center, Urbana 
Length: 21 Minutes 11 Secs. 

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