Beethoven/Schubert - New Orford String Quartet

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BEETHOVEN / SCHUBERT - String Quartet No. 16 in F Major, Op. 135 - String Quartet No. 15 in G Major, D.887, Op. 161 - New Orford String Quartet - 090404936326 - Released: July 2011 - Bridge 9363

In spite of sharing the same city streets during the same epoch and making acquaintances with many of the same people, Schubert and Beethoven never had any direct contact. By the time Schubert was beginning his musical career, Beethoven was almost completely deaf, and because of this, increasingly shut off from society. The two masterful quartets on this disc were composed in the same year, 1826; in the same city, Vienna; apparently in splendid isolation from each other. {Brian Manker (Cello) - Bridge Records}

And that is all they share in common. The String Quartet No. 15 in G Major, D.887, Op. 161 by Franz Schubert is, if anything, extroverted, youthful, predominantly melody driven, somewhat formulaic, and consistently upbeat. On the other hand, the String Quartet No. 16 in F Major, Op. 135 by Ludwig Van Beethoven is introverted, dark, free roaming, and consistently profound. Even in this, his final quartet, and one of his last musical utterances, Beethoven is still exploring new ideas, new concepts, new rhythmic patterns, new motif combinations, and most of all, innovative ways of expressing the ineffable. The first movement's ease of speech and interplay between the four instruments, the second movement's complex rhythm games, the fourth movement's cries of anguish, and most of all the third, slow movement's profound and sublime beauty. Gustav Mahler himself used the first few bars of this music, no doubt as a testimonial, to launch one of his most sublime slow movements, the finale of his Third Symphony.

Let's focus on this movement in particular as a means to demonstrate the high musical standards of the New Orford String Quartet. Jonathan Crow (Violin), Andrew Wan (Violin), Eric Nowlin (Viola) and Brian Manker (Cello) perform this music as if their lives depended on it, as if one lapse of attention, one second of distraction, one minor sag in the tension, could bring the whole edifice crashing down. They even seem to hold their breaths suspended as a group, and feel the pulse of the music as one. Their grip on the varying levels of expression at their disposal is flawless, as is their control of dynamics throughout. But what is most wonderful about all this, is the ease with which they deliver this effect. Nothing ever sounds forced or calculated. And this exacting approach is a constant throughout the music on this CD from start to finish.

Forty-five years ago a new Canadian string quartet was formed at the Jeunesses-Musicales du Canada (today the Orford Arts Centre). Through its many recordings and tours both at home and abroad, the Orford String Quartet became one of Canada's best-known and most illustrious musical ensembles. They themselves recorded the complete Beethoven String Quartets to high standards on the Delos label, a group of recordings that are still on the market today. After 26 years and more than 2000 concerts on six continents, the Quartet disbanded, giving its last concert on July 28, 1991. In July 2009 the New Orford String Quartet arose from the fame and tradition of its glorious predecessor, giving its first concert for a sold-out audience at the Orford Arts Centre. This disc marks the New Orford's debut recording. Bridge Records could not have picked a better program to launch their recording career, nor could they have chosen a better ensemble to perform this program. A match made in heaven!

Jean-Yves Duperron - August 2011