The Kronos Quartet have famously refused to allow themselves to be hemmed in by the narrower parameters of the traditional classical repertoire, devoting themselves to contemporary classical works, experimental pieces, and other compositions outside the usual confines of art music. Folk Songs clearly falls into the third category, and lives up to the title; it features nine selections drawn from the American, British, and French traditional songbooks, and finds the ensemble performing with vocalists Sam Amidon , Olivia Chaney , Rhiannon Giddens , and Natalie Merchant.
With the exception of Giddens ' sprightly take on "Lullaby," the tone of the vocal performances is somber, with these songs depicting tragic and unfortunate circumstances. Though Kronos ' accompaniment is superb throughout, their arrangements are generally subtle and never upstage the singers. In fact, the quartet's attack imaginatively meshes with the tone and spirit of the vocalists, especially as violinists David Harrington and John Sherba mimic Olivia Chaney 's harmonium on "Ramblin' Boy.
And the instrumental version of "Last Kind Words" is a memorable blend of percussive pizzicato lines and bluesy sway that suggests this album could have been nearly as strong without the work of the vocalists, fine as they are especially Giddens and Merchant , both of whom rise to this challenge with flying colors. Folk Songs is a smart and emotionally effective exploration of the folk tradition that respects musical history without being chained to it, and it's an experiment the Kronos Quartet would do well to repeat in the future.
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The piano sonata, the concerto, the symphony -- none of them have disappeared entirely, but none remain in a state that could be called even remotely healthy. The same was true of the string quartet until , when violinist David Harrington got some friends together to play contemporary music and offered his old high-school composition teacher a bag of donuts if he'd write a piece for them.
The resulting composition was the first of over works that have been written for the Kronos Quartet over the course of the following 25 years, a period which has seen the revitalization of the previously moribund string quartet format. But Kronos has done more than simply triple the size of the string quartet repertoire; by focusing on living composers, by cultivating a somewhat rebellious image, and by playing with impeccable professionalism and skill, Kronos has brought a new and primarily young audience to classical music.
This massive ten-disc retrospective includes performances of 31 major compositions, most previously released, but some in new recordings. There are none of the miniature works that fill so many of Kronos' individual albums; these are all long-form compositions, all but one presented in their entirety.
They include two string quartets by Henryk Gorecki, Terry Riley's post-minimalist Cadenza on the Night Plain, Morton Feldman's Piano and String Quartet, three quartets by Philip Glass, and many others, but the highlights of the collection are the tremendously moving Different Trains by Steve Reich who combined train sounds, multi-tracked string quartet, and the recorded voices of concentration camp survivors and Pullman porters to create a powerful and deeply personal statement on the Holocaust and Alfred Schnittke's exquisite Collected Songs Where Every Verse Is Filled With Grief.
The packaging is excellent as well, and includes a booklet packed with photos, essays, and notes on the individual composers and compositions.
Pieces of Africa. When released, Pieces of Africa was subject to some of the same "cultural imperialist" criticism that had been more successfully leveled at performers like David Byrne and Paul Simon. The album consists of commissions from African composers working at varying distances from European conventions.
But whereas Byrne and Simon arguably used the music of Brazil or South Africa as backgrounds over which to display their own egos, the Kronos Quartet's members managed to sublimate themselves in service to the compositions, never giving the listener any sense of condescension.
All of which is to say that Pieces of Africa is a very beautiful recording with several superb individual works.
Zimbabwe's Dumisani Maraire's opening piece, "Mai Nozipo," with the composer accompanying the quartet on drums, is a rousing, triumphant anthem with a resonant melodic line that will long linger. Thematically, most of the pieces draw on African sources, very clearly in the case of the Arabic-infused songs of Hassan Hakmoun and the great Sudanese composer Hamza el Din. Unsurprisingly, South African Kevin Volan's "White Man Sleeps" comes closest to European traditions, though even this piece, which is gorgeous and inspired throughout, draws inspiration from native environmental sounds.
The disc closes with another composition by Maraire, with an accompanying gospel choir making explicit the link between Africa's music and that of the American South.
Pieces of Africa teems with beguiling melodies, making it one of this quartet's more accessible projects and also one of its best. Riley : Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector. Folk Songs. Early Music. But maybe that shouldn't come as a surprise, either. If so, the Kronos folks have turned his intent on its ear in a way that he himself would probably have loved. Puckishness, however, is not really on the agenda here: the overriding mood is one of sadness and devotion, as the album's subtitle Latin for "ancient tears" makes clear.
Like most of Kronos' best work, this is dark, lovely, eerie stuff. Music of Vladimir Martynov. In spite of the similarities in their backgrounds and journeys, each has a distinctive sound, and Martynov, who is perhaps the least well-known in the West, brings a new perspective to the tradition of European music shaped by mysticism and minimalism.
On the surface Martynov's music doesn't have an immediate resemblance to minimalism apart from the directness of its tonal language , but like minimalism it uses repetition as a structural element and it is concerned with the perception of the passage of time, which it tends to stretch out with almost unbearable poignancy into what commentator Greg Dubinsky describes as "a prolonged state of grace.
The two composers Martynov references in the pieces recorded here are Schubert and Mahler, both of whom had immense expressive range but were especially noted for the pure, unsentimental sweetness they could summon. It opens with a bleak, sinking desolation, but over the course of its 40 minutes the music blossoms into an unabashed hyper-Romanticism of unguarded expressiveness and intense sweetness.
Martynov wrote his Schubert-Quintet Unfinished for the current members of the Kronos plus Joan Jeanrenaud, the group's original cellist. Its two movements take as their core material the rising octave figure of Schubert's great C major Quintet, and the composer interweaves other themes from the Schubert throughout. Martynov originally wrote The Beatitudes for chorus, but arranged it especially for Kronos.
June 24, Jay Blakesberg hide caption. Retrieved April 6, Formed in Seattle, WA. English Traditional. Go Visit their …. Folk Songs. Kyrie 2 Guillaume de Machaut.
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