Notes and Editorial Reviews
"The music of Raymond Murray Schafer (b 1933) had hitherto struck me as earnest and skilful, questing but not visionary; this terrific new set has changed all that. These electrifying accounts argue for Schafer’s as the strongest post-war North American cycle. (Carter enthusiasts will baulk at that.) Purists may recoil at his liberal use of microtones throughout, of a solo soprano – on tape in No 4 (1988-89), very much live in No 7 (1999) – and of percussion in the Fifth (1989) and Seventh. Four (Nos 2-4 and 7) require the players to move around the stage – including the cellist, aided by a specially invented harness.
The essentials of Schafer’s quartet-style were present from the start. If the First (1970) fails to reconcile the opening’s expressionism with the lyrical contrasting material, it is a vibrant, concentrated utterance. It won the Honegger Prize in 1980, two years after its successor, Waves (1976), was awarded the Jules-Leger. The pivotal work is the three-movement Third (1981), the only one not in a single span, where means and expressivity combine powerfully. Listen past the players’ cries, growls and hisses surreally counterpointing the strings in the central Allegro energico: the music packs a real punch, the magnificent slow finale most of all.
The quartets that followed are of the highest quality. The shadows of Bartok and Shostakovich are apparent in the intensity of expression, rhythmic zest and direct communicability of these works, especially the marvellous Sixth (1992-93; the title, Parting Wild Horse’s Mane, is a T’ai Chi movement, not a Native American reference). The unorthodox, compelling Seventh fuses with cantata as Shostakovich’s Thirteenth Symphony did; Schafer’s vocal style reminded me of Britten at first, Nicola Lefanu later on.
Together for just four years, the Molinari combine in their playing the drive of an ensemble still finding their way with the maturity of a group that arrived years ago. Atma’s sound is superbly engineered, making as much as possible of the spatial dimensions, and Marie-Danielle Parent contributes strongly to Nos 4 and 7. A Critics’ Choice contender and very strongly recommended."