Souvenirs: String Quartet No. 1; Album for the Young – extracts; Souvenir de Florence*
Rolston String Quartet; *Miguel da Silva (viola), *Gary Hoffman (cello)
Fuga Libera FUG 757 69:40 mins
Founded seven years ago in Canada, the Rolston String Quartet has been making waves for some time throughout North America. This beautifully recorded debut release confirms not only their superb technical accomplishment and their impeccably blended sound, but also a maturity of interpretative approach that can only be achieved after long and patient engagement with the music.
There is much to admire in their performance of Tchaikovsky’s First Quartet, not least their purity of intonation in the opening chordal passage of the first movement which perfectly evokes the reverential sounds of Russian Orthodox church music, and their uncanny ability to bring almost Mozartian clarity to the densely textured, almost orchestral writing in the Finale. More controversial is their decision to ratchet up the tempo quite drastically near the end of the first movement’s exposition, thereby ignoring Tchaikovsky’s specific marking of Poco più mosso (a little faster). Admittedly this tactic works far more effectively at the end of this movement, where the composer whips up a storm with a rapid accelerando, and also in the closing section of the Finale, both passages delivered here with breathtaking virtuosity.
Curiously, the Rolstons show greater restraint when joined by two extra players for the Souvenir de Florence. All too often, the ear gets tired by over-inflated performances of this work, but the Rolstons never fall into this trap, even during the frenetic fugal writing in the Finale. At the opposite end of the dynamic spectrum, their performance of the slow movement is beautifully atmospheric, with wonderfully shimmering textures in the strange middle section.