Orion String Quartet
Leon Kirchner: Complete String Quartets
Albany Records (www.albanyrecords.com)
One of the amazing aspects of our time, with increasing lifespans and concomitant productivity by seniors, is the tremendous vitality of many “elder statesman” composers. At age 88, Leon Kirchner is certainly a member of this elite group. His First and Second String Quartets are wonderfully wrought works, steeped in the composer’s training with Schoenberg and abiding love for the other members of the Second Viennese School. But what makes this complete quartets recording so extraordinary is the time lag between the third and fourth quartets: forty-one years!
The Third Quartet is one of my favorite pieces for strings and electronic tape, a work which allows the tape to embody both string-like aspects and contrasting timbres, giving the result an orchestral aspect. Kirchner deals with triadic materials, albeit in a resolutely post-tonal fashion, in the Fourth Quartet; but the piece still reverberates with echoes of his modernist proclivities rather than the spirit of a Neo-Romantic. The Orion Quartet does a sterling job throughout and one is doubly grateful for the part they played in coaxing another quartet out of an imaginative octogenarian composer.