Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A multi-cultural dance

Adapting a string quartet for string orchestra is analogous to "opening up" a play to make a film. When it's done well both the adapters and the actors can take a lot of credit. Think of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The success of the film is due in equal measure to a great screenplay by Ernest Lehman, great direction by Mike Nichols, and amazing acting by an ensemble of movie stars. We have a similar situation in this fine new disc from Linn Records: one of the great String Quartets, by Debussy, is adapted by Jonathan Morton, and then Morton leads the fine string players of the Scottish Ensemble in a superb performance. Two things are key here: firstly Morton loses none of Debussy's instrumental colour by homogenizing the string lines, and secondly the players are beautifully in sync with each other while still giving that "opened up" feeling. This is a successful adaptation that rewards repeated listening with new insights into the beauty of Debussy's composition and the sound of violins, violas, cellos and basses playing together.

Speaking of film, one of my favourite works for string orchestra is Toru Takemitsu's 1987 work Nostalghia (In Memory of Andrei Tarkovsky). Though Takemitsu wrote a great deal of film score music (including two additional works on this disc), this piece is not from the great film, though it wouldn't be out of place there. Tarkovsky rather used music from works such as Beethoven's 9th Symphony and Verdi's Requiem. It's an amazing film, and Takemitsu's work is a heart-felt hommage.

As to the rest of this album, everything is at this very high level of passionate music making. The alternating Debussy and Takemitsu pieces are a kind of multi-cultural dance where each composer illuminates the other. A triumph from Scotland!

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