SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

4 + Four – Turtle Island String Quartet + Ying Quartet

The creative Turtle Islanders bring in a second string quartet but not to play Schubert or Mendelssohn!

Published on May 24, 2005

4 + Four – Turtle Island String Quartet + Ying Quartet
4 + Four – Turtle Island String Quartet + Ying Quartet – Telarc multichannel SACD-60630 ****:

A number of classical string quartets have been actively redefining the
form for some years now. The Kronos Quartet probably started the whole
thing 40 years ago, but Turtle Island has been around 20 years and
going about it their own way. Actually, what they have been doing in
blending the classical quartet tradition with 20th century American
vernacular styles is very similar to the very first Kronos recording -
a 45 rpm 12-inch for Reference Recordings. Such wide-ranging influences
as bluegrass, folk, pop, swing, bebop, funk, R&B, new age, rock,
hip-hop, Latin American, and East Indian have been integrated into
Turtle Island’s repertory. And unlike the Kronos, TISQ originates most
of its own music.

At a music event, TISQ leader David Balakrishnan began talking to Ying
Quartet lead violinist Timothy Ying about some sort of collaboration
between their two quartets. The Ying is the faculty
quartet-in-residence at the Eastman School of Music and was nominated
for a Grammy award in chamber music. The collaboration took some time
and hard work, but this disc is the final result. It opens with an
Oliver Nelson big band tune arranged by the TISQ’s second violinist
Evan Price. Next is a duet by the cellists from the two quartets.
Mara’s Garden of False Delights is a three-movement original suite by
Balakrishnan, inspired by the three states of being in Hindu
philosophy. The first successful attempt to combine jazz and classical
music in a concert work was Darius Milhaud’s ballet The Creation of the
World in 1923. That orchestral work undergoes quite a transformation to
fit the octet. The featured string bass in the original is now replaced
by the two cellos. By the time the 11-minute work is over one feels
perhaps this version could be Milhaud’s original – it works that well.
Variations on an Unoriginal Theme is a sort of battle of the bands, as
the two quartets toss the theme back and forth, changing it into a jig,
scherzo, gospel tune or mambo. Lennon & McCartney’s Because closes
the disc in four-part harmony with a taste of tango thrown in. The
surround mix keeps the entire octet up front and is not that different
from the stereo mix, aside from more “air.” This would have been a trip
done via Tacet’s “Real Surround” method of putting the listener in the
center of the octet!

- John Sunier




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