Having enjoyed Volume 4 in this series of recordings entitled: "groove-oriented chamber music", I needed to hear more. So I jumped at Volume 3, which was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2016. It is, if anything, even finer than its successor, and more fully encapsulates the "groove" theme of these discs. These works exhibit a greater rhythmic drive and energy than the more lyrical selections on Vol. 4. And I found them even more compelling, irresistible and, frankly, thoroughly addicting.
Let me cut right to the chase - Mr. Wolfgang's string quartet, String Theory, is an absolute masterpiece. It was commissioned in 2013 for the Los Angeles chamber music series and is simply one of the best pieces of contemporary chamber music I've heard since discovering the music of Guillaume Connesson several years ago. Unlike so much of contemporary music (especially chamber music), this isn't just a bunch of meaningless notes, going nowhere. Not for an instant does Mr. Wolfgang's inventive genius wane. The creative inspiration is everywhere present - and adorned in the most alluring orchestration. Color, textures and mood-changes are as varied as it gets, making this one of the most interesting new works to listen to. I hear hints of Bartok all through, which bring delights aplenty. It was not until after listening twice that I took time to read the booklet and discovered this was intentional - the 1st movement "Bela" is indeed an homage to Bartok. But I found the slow movement, Northern Lights, to sound especially Bartokian. And it is mesmerizing. The 2nd movement, Cartwheels, is all pizzicato, which is endlessly fascinating, especially as played so convincingly here by the New Hollywood String Quartet. The entire work prompted a 2nd listen; then a 3rd. Fantastic!
But the glories of this collection don't end there. Another masterpiece, of even greater accomplishment, appears in the form of his piano quintet, New England Travelogue. Once again, we are treated to the most engaging variety of mood and colorful orchestration, with the addition of the piano. And I must make special mention of the fabulous piano playing of Joanne Pearce Martin, who impressed me so greatly in Volume 4 as well. It's not that it's a difficult piece to play; she just makes such music out of it - wonderfully singing, helped by the clear, resonant recording acoustic. And the playing of the Eclipse Quartet is beyond reproach. I again had to listen to it more than once.
The remaining pieces feature the fantastic bassoon playing of this series' co-producer (and Wolfgang's wife), Judith Farmer, in combination with various instruments. Flurry is with piano; Passing Through with oboe; and Trilogy with both. Expecting these three works to all sound very similar, they are not. I am once again amazed at the variety of inspiration and creative accomplishment. Each is a unique and richly rewarding work in its own right.
Fortunately for Mr. Wolfgang, the playing throughout this disc is absolutely superb. Not only are these musicians as professionally accomplished as it gets, but they are totally committed to this music. And Albany once again provides recorded quality of the very highest order. Modern chamber music simply does not get any better than this. Buy it if you can find it. These discs are readily available via MP3 and streaming, but are becoming very hard to find on CD.
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