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Koppel's String Quartets is CD of the Month

By David Vernier

In the interest of fair-minded listening I did not read any notes to this recording or any press materials: if a modern string quartet can't stand on its own and explain itself with the strength and elegance of its musical argument (the way Mozart's and Haydn's and Beethoven's works did), then no amount of "explanation" can convince a listener of its worth either in time or aesthetic value. And having listened to this recording three times very carefully, I still have no idea what the note-writer said--but I can unreservedly say that this is a first-rate program of eminently listenable, exceptionally well-wrought chamber music, remarkable for its inventive, conventionally sophisticated string quartet writing--no resorting to gimmicks or lazy, non-musical extremes of timbre or technique.


These days I tend to hold my breath in the first few seconds of listening to a new-music recording--it's astonishing what gag-inducing blather today's composers regard as worthy of inflicting on their audiences. But, be not afraid: Anders Koppel is not only an intelligent artist, he also knows how to write really fine music for string quartet--and as a string player, I mean he really knows string writing. The two quartets exemplify the elevation of melody against a fundamentally but harmlessly dissonant background--all the while exploiting the strings' unique timbral character, and the result is exactly what a string quartet should achieve: 15 or 20 minutes of bracing, engaging music that you couldn't hear in any other context.


Best of all--and the primary reason to purchase this disc--is the Quintet for Mezzo Saxophone and String Quartet. Okay, while the "custom-built mezzo saxophone", heard here "for the first time ever on CD", may be an intriguing draw for some listeners, I have to say that to my ears its sound is little different from an alto saxophone. Nevertheless, this makes no difference regarding the work for which it appears here. The Quintet is a luscious, sexy, richly characterful piece firmly rooted in jazz idioms yet holding court in the most sophisticated arenas of classical style. The saxophone is not just a gratuitous addition but stands as an integral part of the work--Anders Koppel has created something not only sensible but laudable and repeatable and demanding of a place in the concert repertoire, an achievement already noted in our review of his saxophone concertos. Make this a priority.


Read the review on Classics Today's website: http://www.classicstoday.com/review.asp?ReviewNum=13359

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