Rochberg: String Quartet No. 3; String Quartet No. 4; String Quartet No. 5; String Quartet No. 6

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COMPOSERS: Rochberg
LABELS: New World
WORKS: String Quartet No. 3; String Quartet No. 4; String Quartet No. 5; String Quartet No. 6
PERFORMER: Concord String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 80551-2
Born in 1918, George Rochberg was a doctrinaire serialist for the first phase of career, until in the Sixties he underwent a Damascene conversion. After the tragic death of his son, Rochberg cast about for a musical language that could express his grief, and finding his modernism unequal to the task he began to explore the possibilities of tonality once again. The work that announced his transformation was the Third String Quartet, first performed by the Concord Quartet in 1972, and Rochberg went on to consolidate his new found language in the set of three quartets for the same group, which he called the Concord Quartets, composed five years afterwards.

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The result yearns to compress 150 years of music history into a single heterogeneous style. The Third Quartet is a vast mosaic, not only patterned on the late Beethoven quartets structurally but musically too in some respects – there are passages of profound contemplative calm juxtaposed with BartÛkian vigour, snatches of birdsong alongside four-square marches. Quartets 4, 5 and 6 continue in the same vein: traditional forms – serenades, rondos, strict sonatas – are recycled; atonal passages lie cheek by jowl with thoroughly tonal ones. The Sixth contains a set of variations increasingly chromatic on Pachelbel’s famous canon, and a finale larded with quotations from Mozart, Schubert and Beethoven. It’s an unnerving, highly personal world. Andrew Clements