American Contemporaries: Harbison, Wernick, and Schuller

May 7, 1994

To varying extents, these three pieces by John Harbison, Richard Wernick, and Gunther Schuller represent a rapprochement with the history of the string quartet, both in the adoption of recognizable Classical movement structures and in the adaptation of tonal elements in a modernist context.

About the Album

Toward the end of the twentieth century, many composers began a serious reassessment of traditional forms and methods, and recognized the powerful influence of the past, notwithstanding decades of avant-garde experimentation and indoctrination.  Mildly dissonant counterpoint, a use of modes rather than atonality, and suggestions of Baroque string sonorities make Harbison's String Quartet No. 2 the most approachable of the three works, though perhaps the least stimulating. Wernick's String Quartet No. 4 and Schuller's String Quartet No. 3 are more challenging and conflicted because they retain many of the sharp gestures and rhythmic dislocations derived from expressionism and serialism, yet intermittently reveal tonal features and lyrical impulses over the course of their movements. The Emerson String Quartet delivers these quartets with ample energy and solid ensemble playing, though their expression is somewhat limited by their subservience to the written notes, and their execution tends to be severe. Deutsche Grammophon provides its usual excellent sound.

Harbison: String Quartet No. 2

Wernick: String Quartet No. 4

Schuller: String Quartet No. 3

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