COMPOSERS: Milhaud Binder Schonthal Zorn Secunda
ALBUM TITLE: Jewish String Quartets
WORKS: Kol Nidre; C minor String Quartet
PERFORMER: Juilliard Quartet Bochmann Quartet Bingham Quartet; Ilya Kaler, Perrin Yang (violin), George Taylor (viola), Steven Doane (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.559451
Since this is the first disc in Naxos’s Milken Archive Series to focus exclusively on chamber music, it’s a pity that most of the works on offer are of rather limited interest. The world premiere recording of a late work by Milhaud is a particular disappointment, for despite the Juilliard Quartet’s excellent playing, its three movements amount to little more than dutiful note-spinning. Likewise, Sholom Secunda’s
30-minute C minor String Quartet, based on synagogue melodies, is a somewhat long-winded academic exercise betraying little individuality of thought; a flaw that unfortunately hinders John Zorn’s Kol Nidre, its harmonic patterns following the outline of Arvo Pärt’s Fratres almost to the point of plagiarism.
Far more compelling is the astringent Third Quartet subtitled In Memoriam Holocaust by Ruth Schonthal, a composer of German origin who studied with Hindemith in the United States. Here at last is a piece that establishes a distinctive voice with some interesting textures and a sense of direction. The performance from the Bingham Quartet is powerfully committed and although the resonant acoustic tends to blur some of the textures, there is enough in the work to suggest that more of Schonthal’s output warrants investigation on CD. Erik Levi