All products and recordings are chosen independently by our editorial team. This review contains affiliate links and we may receive a commission for purchases made. Please read our affiliates FAQ page to find out more.

Krise/Crisis (Kuss Quartet)

Kuss Quartet (Rubicon)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Janáček: String Quartet No. 1 (‘Kreutzer Sonata’); plus pieces by Bartók, Haydn, Komitas, Schubert, Shostakovich et al
Kuss Quartet
Rubicon RCD1102   84:12 mins


This thought-provoking album attempts to reflect an ongoing sense of bleakness and looming disaster, not just the long shadow of the pandemic, but also war (and though unmentioned, surely also climate change). It combines variously familiar quartet movements with three commissions, opening with the opening movement of Haydn’s Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross.

The first commission, Francesco Ciurlo’s Hasta pulverizarse los ojos (Until the eyes are pulverised) balances exhalation-like gestures with fragmentation. Immediately after, Haydn and Schubert sound transformed. The next group combines Bartók and Shostakovich with Bertelsmeier, Reich and Komitas. This section is the strongest. Reich’s WTC 9/11, with tape, is devastating, as is Komitas’s guileless Spring.

The third section begins with a Felix Mendelssohn Adagio. The closing movement of Smetana’s ‘From my Life’ Quartet provides a welcome change of mood. Oddly, we then hear Janáček’s complete ‘Kreutzer Sonata’ Quartet (albeit in a searing performance). The final commission, by ‘post-composer’ Carlos Escudero, involves QR codes and somewhat confusing instructions, resulting in a strangely flippant experience guided by violist William Coleman’s perhaps unintentionally humorous-ironic voice.

One caveat: although the liner notes speak of ‘humankind’, the Kuss’s ‘world’-view remains largely male Eurocentric. We venture no further south than Armenia, and Birke Bertelsmeier’s memorable ‘Krise’ occupies 3.5 minutes of an 84-minute album. Ironically, Escudero’s QR-code instructions quote the French composer Hélène de Montgeroult declaring that she can get nobody to take an interest in her efforts.

Nevertheless, the playing is exquisitely judged, shifting between fragility and strength, alienation and familiarity. The recorded sound is intimate, creating compelling sonic affinities.


Natasha Loges