Avalon String Quartet’s Brilliant “Illuminations”

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

The folks at Cedille seem to have mastered the art of putting together classical music collections that make good musical sense. Debussy’s String Quartet is, of course, standard fare, and it usually appears in tandem with the Ravel and something else French. Not here. Instead, we have two Britten rarities, the entertaining Three Divertimenti and the lone Alla Marcia (the first of the Divertimenti is also a march, so you can see the logic), a self-described “Pictures at an Exhibition” type piece by Stacy Garrop, and a moving conclusion in the form of Osvaldo Golijov’s single-movement Tenebrae. The entire program provides consistently interesting and entertaining continuous listening, and the sonics are drop-dead gorgeous.

So, for that matter, is the playing of the Avalon String Quartet. The group’s corporate sonority is warm and mellow, but with just a touch of “rosin” in the tone. They attack rhythmic moments such as the scherzo of the Debussy, the Burlesque and the marches in the Britten pieces, and Garrop’s musically impossibly named “Mouth of Hell” with plenty of guts and precision, but no unpleasant hardness in the tone. The slow music is simply luminous. I am not generally a fan of pseudo-religious programmatic stuff such as Garrop offers here, but it’s awfully well done, and the booklet provides well-produced, full-color reproductions of the illustrations from the late medieval Book of Hours that Garrop took as her inspiration. They are exquisite, as is much of Garrop’s writing more generally.

Here, in short, is another excellent program that chamber music fans looking to venture off the beaten path will surely relish.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Debussy: Quartetto Italiano (Philips)

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