WORKS: Works by Adams, Pärt, Glass, Benshoof, Piazzolla, Feldman, Górecki, Reich, Crumb, Riley, Schnittke, Gubaidulina, Volans, Sculthorpe, Golijov,
PERFORMER: Kronos Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 7559-79504-2 (10 discs)
Whatever else one can say about the Kronos Quartet, it is certainly modern. The Kronos web site – a slickly designed mix of biography, discography, lofty mission statements and dramatic half-lit photos – nicely captures the zeitgeist.
Leader David Harrington is quoted there saying: ‘I’ve always wanted the string quartet to be vital, and energetic, and alive, and cool, and not afraid to kick ass.’ Add to this the group’s eschewal of traditional concert attire in favour of spandex, leather, Lycra or whatever is the material of the moment, and one can be certain that a recording marking the quartet’s 25th anniversary is not going to reveal them grappling po-facedly with Beethoven’s Op. 132.
In fact even a piece like Berg’s Lyric Suite, which they play rather well, is too old hat for a set which avowedly sets out to celebrate the Kronos’s track record as the commissioners of around 400 new works or arrangements. There are bound to be quibbles. Were four quartets by Philip Glass necessary, for example? Some would say one would have been more than enough, the same going for Górecki’s ugly and boring offerings.
But while the Kronos is loyal to its minimalist heartland, kicking off with some whimsical John Adams and Arvo Pärt’s easy-won mysticism, and giving us more Terry Riley than we could ever need, there is some exciting stuff too.
It links up intuitively with Astor Piazzolla in the Argentinian’s typically wrenching tangos and turns in precise performances of a couple of intelligent minimalist offshoots, Steve Reich’s Different Trains and Kevin Volans’s White Man Sleeps.
Morton Feldman’s 80-minute Piano Quintet is dreamlike, not to say soporific, but somehow keeps one’s attention, and there is much to savour in the avant-garde trickery of Sofia Gubaidulina and George Crumb, in Osvaldo Golijov’s contribution – a sort of Jewish wedding on acid – and especially in Alfred Schnittke’s articulate cries of pain.
The whole set speaks of a flourishing medium, rumours of whose death are greatly exaggerated, and for that, as for their enthusiasm, musicianship and unflagging belief in the new, we must thank the Kronos.