WORKS: String Quartet in F (American); String Quartet Op. 11; String Quartet No. 1
PERFORMER: Duke Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 13862 DDD
An imaginative mixture of the popular and the unusual. Barber’s only quartet has at its heart the famous Adagio for Strings: the latter is an arrangement of the second of the quartet’s two movements.
That Adagio – which here benefits not only from the unfamiliarity of the chamber original but also from the Duke’s sensitively understated approach on their first recording for Collins Classics – is here surrounded by some captivating faster music (including a brief return to the opening Molto allegro’s ideas). And Robert Maycock’s excellent booklet notes hint at what those famous seven minutes of slow, sad passion in particular could really be said to be about: young homosexual love in the Austrian woods.
Thirty years later, in 1966, another American in Europe, and still in his twenties, wrote his first string quartet, though it’s unlikely to be a direct reflection of love, this time in Paris. Glass’s piece predates anything by which even the most die-hard minimalists know him, and it hasto be admitted that thiscomposition – withts unyielding but wistful overlapping repetitions, stultifyingly fragmented structure and weird two-minute silence between its two movements – is only a curiosity. Here the Duke strike as good a balance between rigour and expressiveness as is possible. Their Dvorák is slowish but never indulgent. Keith Potter