STUFF – 2016

Where Have All the String Quartets Gone? (last updated, December 2016)

As from December 2016 I shall be cutting back my postings to mostly one per week, that is, 4-5 per month.

At times I’m finding it takes a lot of effort to come up with fresh works. Many great quartets that I own have been deleted and as CD sales plummet, it will only get worse. You can already see evidence of this on Amazon. The really interesting but more obscure works are going and not being replaced with new SQ releases. But we still have 225 complete versions of Bartok!

Given that I tend to only review quartets that are available on Spotify or Youtube, this also reduces the size of the pool. I think it’s important that I keep this up and will seldom do a review on something that you can’t sample. It’s a bit pointless, really. But for that special work, I will sometimes do it.

I’m also going to restrict my observations on ‘Classical’ quartets. Before Beethoven, who bought a strong sense of emotional expression to the genre, quartets were more about formal structure than overt emotional content. I find these quite difficult to get a handle on with my style of reviewing, which generally is exclusively about the emotional expression. I will however, try to pop one in occasionally.

Finally, if anyone feels like it, if you hear a quartet that you really like, could you let me know by email, please? I’d be interested in your responses to different quartets. They don’t have to be ones that I have reviewed.

A String Quartet Performance (last updated, October 2016)

I recently watched the Prazak Quartet perform Leos Janacek’s SQ No. 2, Intimate Letters. I noticed a couple of things that were pertinent to my reviews. Firstly, the difficulty in distinguishing between the violins and the viola on a recording. In the second movement the viola is heavily featured, but in the middle register, it sounded like a violin. Later, the second violin played in its deepest register and sounded for all the world like a viola. I usually make assumptions based on tonal range and I could easily be getting them wrong. However there is not much I can do other than trust my ears!

Secondly, the manner in which recording, mixing and mastering engineers present the blend of the four instruments has an effect on the feeling of the music. Later that evening, I listened to the Tokyo String Quartet recording of the same piece. I set it to a reasonable volume but there were silences where the music was mixed too softly. I heard every note in the Prazak. I don’t know why engineers promote such a large dynamic range. Probably because they can. Oh well.

A Product Disclosure Statement (last updated, July 2016)
When I share my musings of these works with you, I am not necessarily recommending them. I just enjoy writing about music that I find interesting. I’m just putting them out there. Some of them I own, others I review off Spotify. Music, being the most abstract of arts, can mean many things to many people. I like to write about some of these possibilities. As a final word, please don’t take me too seriously!

Now Reviewing MP3 Downloads (last updated, July 2016)
A lot of the CDs that I would like to review are presently coming up on Amazon US & UK as ‘Currently Unavailable’. I take this to mean that the manufacturer has decided not to press any more due to the current state of the declining CD market, especially for classical CDs. I think ‘Temporarily Unavailable’ means that they may be available again. I am now prepared to review a CD that is available by MP3 download. Time will tell but I personally believe that this is the way the market is heading and a lot more great albums will only be available as MP3 downloads. It also means I get a chance to review some wonderful music. BTW, I will mention in my summation if an item is only available by MP3 download.

Dynamics In Classical Music (last updated, June 2016)
I am an apartment-dweller and find that the dynamic range of orchestral music and string quartets is often way too large. The capabilities of the digital revolution allow sound engineers to produce recordings with a dynamic range much greater than you would experience in the concert hall. I can’t listen to some of my orchestral recordings because when it gets quiet, it gets really quiet and I have to turn it right up. Then when the crescendos kick in, the neighbours are banging on the wall!

As for string quartets, it’s a bit the same. Traditional quartets are okay but it seems that many modern quartets commence at an almost inaudible level which usually goes on for 2-3 minutes and then things turn ugly where we have extremely harsh, dissonant interjections for a short period of time, then back to the inaudible. Strangely enough, I only like the quiet sections in some modern quartets. There is some beautiful, haunting music to be found there.

I have actually edited some string quartet and orchestral audio files myself; extracting the noisy sections and bringing the inaudible into listening range. Glenn Gould would have loved that concept. He looked forward to the day when listeners could make up their own performances. That day arrived twenty years ago.

Labelling String Quartets by Periods (last updated, June 2016)
As stated on the home page, I tend to use four periods to place a piece within a style. The periods are  Classical, Romantic, Contemporary and Modern. This approach obviously cannot be very precise or definitive. Composers, although they are aware of what is happening around them, and have a knowledge of past techniques, tend to write in a personal style, no matter when they were born. My underlying premise however, is to assume not everything is what it seems. As illustrated in my post on Malipiero and Dessau (June 2016), it can be shown that two composers from the same era can come up with completely different conceptions. I must admit I find it difficult to write about Classical and early Romantic quartets, I just can’t seem to feel the emotion of, say, a Contemporary work.

Music textbooks all define overlapping periods, and usually different periods at that. Then we have the neo-classics, late romantics, modern versus contemporary/20th century and the idea, in my opinion, of the modern period becoming so splintered as to be useless.

There is a saying that Christians have – in the world, not of the world. I think this can apply to composers; you either write for the conventions of the world, or follow your own personal path …

Q: What’s a man to do?

A: I’m going to work through the plethora of modern string quartets in the previously mentioned podcast blog and see what I can come up with.