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Kirchner: Complete String Quartets / Orion String Quartet

Release Date: 06/17/2008 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1030   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Leon Kirchner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orion String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 2 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

KIRCHNER String Quartets: No. 1; No. 2; No. 3; No. 4 Orion Str Qrt ALBANY TROY1030 (61:39)

Leon Kirchner’s debt to the music of his teacher in Los Angeles, Arnold Schoenberg, looms large in these magnificent scores (Kirchner also studied with Ernest Bloch and Roger Sessions). This composer writes with almost preternatural self-assurance. The sheer confidence of the writing in the First Quartet (1949) is breathtaking, matched only by the standard of the Orion’s rendition. It is aurally obvious that organicism Read more lies at the heart of Kirchner’s organization, and that this organicism is ultra-tightly manifested. This, in turn, requires performances of at least an equal concentration, and that is precisely the case on this occasion. The Orion String Quartet (a group new to me, I must confess) plays with unbridled enthusiasm.

The four movements of the First Quartet utilize a huge range of string techniques to convey the expressionist Angst that lies at the core of the work. It is, indeed, entirely fitting that the work closes with an Adagio. The Second Quartet (1958) is given a performance that is just as aware (it perhaps plumbs even deeper depths in the pure Expressionism of its Adagio). The finale (a fast movement, this time, marked Allegro molto ) is dispatched with real energy, both internal and external, by the Orion.

Both the Third and Fourth Quartets are composed in single movements. The Third (1966) incorporates increasingly disruptive passages of electronic music. Here, Kirchner’s aural imagination is awe-inspiring, as one experiences the electronics melding with the quartet sounds, then momentarily breaking free. At one point there is a “Tape Cadenza,” in which the electronic music takes the foreground and the quartet members have to accompany. The tape was created in the studios of Morton Subotnik, by the way. Kirchner completed this work in under four weeks (very fast, for him), and it remains true that one can detect a feverish inspiration as an active part of the generative process here. Here, the Schoenbergian processes of the first two quartets are heard in a Stockhausen-like, space-age reframing. Fascinating.

Finally, the Fourth Quartet, which follows the Third on this disc without a pause. The contrast is stark, for the final quartet here is infinitely more approachable on its surface. Written in 2006 (when the composer was 87 years old), the piece breathes a sort of reined-in ecstasy. If the historical inheritance of the string quartet medium is much more evident here than in the Third Quartet, so is the feeling of a confident summation of Kirchner’s thoughts on the medium. The moment of repose close to the work’s final moments seems highly indicative of Kirchner’s peace with his own mode of expression.

Interestingly, there is a recording of the first three quartets by the Boston Composers Quartet on Albany 137, which I have not heard. I assume this release is intended to supplant the earlier (the fourth quartet was obviously not yet composed at the time of the Boston Composers Quartet’s recording).

FANFARE: Colin Clarke
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Works on This Recording

Quartet for Strings no 1 by Leon Kirchner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orion String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1949; USA 
Quartet for Strings no 2 by Leon Kirchner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orion String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1958; USA 
Quartet for Strings no 3 by Leon Kirchner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orion String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1966; USA 
Quartet for Strings no 4 by Leon Kirchner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orion String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 

Featured Sound Samples

String Quartet no 3

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