Cantate e Tranquillo

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven,JS Bach,Kurtag,Ligeti,Schnittke and Knaifel
LABELS: ECM
ALBUM TITLE: Cantate e Tranquillo
WORKS: Works by JS Bach, Beethoven, Ligeti, Kurtág, Schnittke and Knaifel
PERFORMER: Keller Quartet; Alexei Lubimov (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: ECM 481 1052

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Partly tracks from earlier recordings, and partly new material, this looks as if it might be a chamber music successor to those soothing adagio compilations, which used to abound. But as the list of composers indicates it isn’t all Restful Classics – even if you approached the opening Largo from Beethoven’s Op. 135 Quartet as a warm aural blanket, you would be jolted out of any complacency by the whispering Ligeti movement which follows. Then there’s the sterner texture of a Contrapunctus from Bach’s Art of Fugue, an insistent and intense movement by Kurtág, and a dreamlike movement from Schnittke’s Piano Quintet, underpinned by a guest ostinato from Alexei Lubimov.

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And so it goes: it’s all expertly played, even if the Bach is more Romantic in its use of vibrato than might be expected nowadays; and the recordings, although of different provenance, have been matched well. What I find difficult to understand is who the audience is expected to be: is this a sampler to entice purchase of the CDs which contain whole works? Or is it a calling card to show off the considerable versatility of the Quartet? After a while, I stopped referring to the track listing, and allowed the various composers to succeed one another without knowing who was next. That made a more satisfying listen: next time I’ll use the random function on the player. Martin Cotton