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).
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