Rzewski • Tenney • Parkins

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Rzweski; Tenney; Parkins
LABELS: New World Recordings
ALBUM TITLE: Rzewski • Tenney • Parkins
WORKS: Rzewski: Whimwhams; Tenney: Cognate Canons; Parkins: s:c:a:t:t:e:r:i:n:g
PERFORMER: William Winant (percussion); Eclipse Quartet

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The combination of string quartet and percussion must be unique on CD. Which is unsurprising, as it’s rarely written for, and hard to bring off. On the one hand, a monochrome medium, naturally disposed towards melody and counterpoint, and steeped in history; on the other, a vast array of struck sounds, of every colour, with barely any history at all. It could easily fall into incoherence without a composer of real rigour and imagination.

Unfortunately, only one of the three composers represented here has those qualities. Frederic Rzewski’s Whimwhams (a word that means a ‘fanciful or fantastic notion or object’) aims to combine improvisational spontaneity with compositional formality, and does so with lively wit. It’s played here with a winning combination of precision and relish, as are the other two pieces, and the recorded sound flatters both the bowed string and struck wooden sounds.

Tenney’s austere and rigorous constructions have their fans, but the dogged pattern-making of his Cognate Canons didn’t persuade me to join them. As for Zeena Parkins’s s:c:a:t:t:e:r:i:n:g, it had a cringingly sophomoric gaucheness. I’ve listened to few pieces on CD with my head in my hands; this, alas, was one.

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Ivan Hewett