Glass: String Quartet No. 2; String Quartet No. 3; String Quartet No. 4; String Quartet No. 5

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COMPOSERS: Glass
LABELS: Nonesuch
WORKS: String Quartet No. 2; String Quartet No. 3; String Quartet No. 4; String Quartet No. 5
PERFORMER: Kronos Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 7559-79356-2 DDD
‘Arguably the most generative artists in new music today…’ One shouldn’t take press releases seriously; better to read Mark Swed’s stimulating booklet notes. But that word ‘generative’ stuck in my mind. Cynics will infer quantity rather than quality: both quartet and composer, whose first joint recording venture this is, have certainly been busy these last dozen years, during which the four quartets on this disc (Nos 2-5) were written. Those who think Glass’s music lacks the substance proper to a string quartet will point out that No. 2 (subtitled Company, 1983) and No. 3 (Mishima, 1985) are spin-offs from incidental music (to Samuel Beckett’s play and Paul Schrader’s film, respectively).

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Yet the Fifth Quartet (1991) continues to impress me. The tone of the work (Swed calls it ‘luminous’) may surprise; the five-movement structure is strong, except for the contrived return of the opening early in the finale. The three-movement Fourth Quartet (1990) on the other hand is full of Glass clichés and, at times, unfocused harmonically. Company and Mishima are shorter and less ambitious; the former is unremarkable, the latter stark and sometimes powerful. Keith Potter