The Daedalus Quartet and Miami String Quartet present chamber works by Joan Tower

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Joan Tower
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Tower
WORKS: String Quartets Nos 3, 4 (Angels) & 5; Dumbarton Quintet
PERFORMER: Daedalus Quartet; Miami String Quartet; Blair McMillen (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Naxos 8.559795

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If you didn’t recognise the vigorous music of Joan Tower before, you certainly will after this CD, featuring three single-span string quartets from the past 15 years, composed by this veteran figure from America’s middle ground. Scuttling, hurtling, soaring, sliding: the same textures keep recurring, often at high speed, usually in organic processes lasting 17 minutes that finally reach journey’s end in a steadfast consonant chord. The best example is Incandescent, a pulsing dance of heat and light, brilliantly sustained by the Miami Quartet. The Daedalus Quartet’s presentation of White Water, inspired by a Bill Viola video, is almost as impressive, filled with aqueous motifs, glissandos and plunges. Canoeing in this water isn’t advised, still less swimming.

With those pieces done, some doubts might creep in. Despite its added piano, doesn’t the Dumbarton Quintet seem another shake of the same cocktail, but a cocktail with a smaller kick? I wobbled particularly over Angels, the most personal piece here, written in the wake of family illness, yet also the most disparate and hardest to navigate. Still, Tower’s personality remains strong. Everything is performed with high panache, and recorded with the warmth and clarity that every fine chamber group deserves.

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Geoff Brown