SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

“American Anthem” — BARBER: String Quartet; Serenade for String Quartet; Dover Beach; HOWARD HANSON: String Quartet da Camera Op. 7; RANDALL THOMPSON: Alleluia – Ying Quartet with Adam Neiman, p. & Randall Scarlata, baritone – Sono Luminus audio-only Blu-ray + CD

A well-thought-out program of American chamber music with the option for hi-res surround reproduction.

Published on April 30, 2013

“American Anthem” — BARBER: String Quartet Op. 11; Serenade for String Quartet Op. 1; Dover Beach; HOWARD HANSON: String Quartet in One Movement Op. 23; Concerto da Camera Op. 7; RANDALL THOMPSON: Alleluia (arr. for string quartet) – Ying Quartet with Adam Neiman, piano & Randall Scarlata, baritone – Sono Luminus DSL-92166, 74:02 (2 discs – Pure Audio Blu-ray [5.1 DTS HD MA or PCM Stereo] & standard CD) [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

Another audio-only Blu-ray winner from Sono Luminus. They use the standard CD jewel box, but accommodating a double-disc set, and furnish a standard CD for those who either don’t have Blu-ray playback as yet or want to also listen to the recording in their car or elsewhere.

The Ying Quartet brings together two very important American figures writing for the quartet format, in a program they have put together which is truly expressive of the American spirit in classical music. Then they round out the album with a special arrangement of the choral Alleluia of Randall Thompson, which also beautifully fits into the general theme.

The first Barber quartet here is of course the one with the second movement Adagio, which—in its usual arrangement for string orchestra—has become probably the best-known music by an American composer and fitting for many different elegiacal situations. It includes a much longer original third movement, which was replaced after its premiere. A second earlier quartet by Barber comes next. It was written while the composer was studying at the Curtis Institute and was only 14 years of age. Dover Beach sets the 1867 poem by Matthew Arnold, for baritone and string quartet, which is also reprinted in the note booklet.

Howard Hanson is not known for his chamber music, but his two works performed here are well worth hearing. The Op. 23 shows influences of Scandanavian composers as well as Elgar and Vaughan Williams.. His Op. 7 adds a pianist and deals with the struggle between light and darkness. It’s neo-Romantic feeling demonstrates some strong emotion, and the composer used a quotation from the Psalms on the score: “Unto Thee lift I up mine eyes…” Both Hanson pieces are each about a quarter-hour length. The Ying Quartet performs all the works with great feeling, and the fidelity is clear and detailed. Both the surround and the two-channel options use the highest 192K sampling rate—not usually found on Blu-rays.

—John Sunier




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