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Notes of an Amateur: Goerne Sings Schumann, Pacifica Quartet Play Brahms & Schumann, Samuel Adler's Quartets.

05-09-2017 | By Bob Neill | Issue 91


Einsam Keit. Schumann Lieder. Mathias Goerne, baritone, Markus Hinterhäuser, piano. Harmonia Mundi HMM 902243

Coming to Matthias Goerne without expectations, which I'll concede is almost impossible, we are struck by the unique combination of weight and lyricism in his voice. Paralleled by the same quality in the piano. The perfect baritone can do this but there are precious few of them. Darkness and light rendered simultaneously, exactly what this music of Schumann pleads for. 

This is a selection of short lieder which suggests it will not be the start of an extended series as Goerne gave us with Schubert. But who knows? In some ways, Goerne may be an even better singer of Schumann than Schubert. 

Those with little or no German will miss some of the emotional detail of this music but may also be more aware of his voice as instrument as compensation -- and a splendid instrument it is. I don't remember a word of German and I was totally intoxicated by this recital.

Pacifica Quartet & Menahem Pressler, piano. Brahms, Piano Quintet; Schumann, String Quartet No. 1. Çedille 90000170.

I'm going to read between the lines here and speculate that this CD represents an occasion: the Pacifical Quartet coming to Indiana University to honor the Jacobs School of Music's eminent professor and former leader of the Beaux Arts Trio, pianist Menahem Pressler, who is by the evidence of this splendid recording still bringing it.

The Pacifica Quartet, who burst on the consciousnesses of many of us in 2008-2009 with their powerful recordings of Elliott Carter's string quartets, have built an impressive recorded repertoire since then, including a complete Shostakovich cycle in 2012-2013. they are a distinctly American sounding ensemble insofar as they tend to come at music with great energy and force rather than letting it come to them. To my ears, their style or approach brings an appealing new sense of life to these two nineteenth century musical landmarks.  

The Brahms quartet in particular can be played with too much respectful affection, especially to modern ears and benefits greatly from the Pacifica's vigorous way with it. There was a time when the Pacificas had to take a backseat to the Emersons. No longer.

Samuel Adler, String Quartet No. 8; Piano Quintet; String Quartet No. 9. Albany Records. Troy 1426.

Samuel Adler, String Quartets, 4,5,8. The Charleston String Quartet. Gasparo GSCD 307.

Samuel Adler, String Quartets Nols 3,6,7. Meliora Quartet, Cleveland Quartet, Fine Arts Quartet. CRI  CD 608.

God knows where you'll be able to find the CRI and Gasparo CD's here. I chased them down on Amazon (their resellers) after hearing the Albany disc, which is current. They are in this review mainly to bring them to your attention. Gasparo has released a huge batch of Adler, some of which may still be had. I think the label itself has...gone away. So if this review raises your interest, don't sit on it too long.

Adler was born in Germany in 1928 and came to the U.S. in 1939, for the obvious reason, making him by age a second generation modernist. This music was composed between 1953 and 2010. His quartets are modernist at its compellingly rhythmically and dissonant best, which is to say, unless high modernism is your usual fare, give them time to make their case. Adler loves all of the instruments equally well, so expect lots of solo phrases and counterpoint. Overall texture is crisp and well defined. This music is as much about the sounds of the violin, viola, and cello as it is about thematic expression. As a sample, I find the music of Quartet No. 5  on the Gasparo CD spectacularly impossible to separate from its wonderful sound reproduction. Sometimes a bit of a briar patch, sometimes a flock of circling birds: this is the kind of music that we go to 'live' concerts for and seldom hear. At least our here in the relative boondocks of Western Massachusetts. 

Start out with the Albany disc, if only to let them know there is an audience out here for Adler. They are one of the very best small labels helping to keep contemporary music available. And the musicians on the CD, the Esterhazy Quartet, do Adler wonderfully well.

When I win the lottery I will endow a mobile concert series for post 1950 music...and make sure it's full of Adler in its inaugural year!


System used for this audition: Resolution Audio Cantata CD player w/BlackJack power cord; Blue Circle NSC preamplifier and NSL amplifier; Jean Marie Reynaud Offrande Supreme, V2 loudspeakers;  Crimson interconnects and speaker cable; Mapleshade Samson equipment rack.

Bob Neill, a former equipment reviewer for Enjoy the Music and Positive Feedback, is proprietor of Amherst Audio in Western Massachusetts which sells equipment from Audio Note (UK), Blue Circle (Canada), Crimson (UK), Jean Marie Reynaud (France), Resolution Audio (US), and Tocaro (Germany).