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After such a condensed opening, Ned Rorem's String Quartet No 4 (1994) seems positively spacious. Ten movements in 27 minutes shouldn't, but in fact the movements fall into groups which then form a broad, balanced span. The first three, fast-slow-fast, function as a fast movement with a slow interlude; the next three, all slow, fall together; then there is another fast-slow-fast group, but this time with the emphasis on the slow movement; and an epilogue.

Rorem is best known for his songs, and there is a strong vocal influence in his instrumental writing. This work is organised as evocations of a series of pictures by the afore-mentioned Picasso, and the lyrical and pictorial elements together make the quartet very approachable.

The piece was commissioned by the Emerson Quartet and has been recorded by them, though I haven't had the luxury of comparing their recording with this one. Certainly Fry Street play it with fluency, agility and conviction. The agility is essential, given that the movements are strongly contrasted and quite short [listen -- CD2 track 9, 0:01-0:53 and track 10, 0:00-0:52].

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Copyright © 19 February 2006 Malcolm Tattersall, Townsville, Australia


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