String Quartets 1 – 4
These string quartets are fairly easy to talk about as a group since the four quartets were written in less than a decade (1922-1931). Consistency abounds on this disc: each has three movements of fast-slow-fast tempi, the musical language is very much in the American Populist style, melodies are rich and frequent, the string writing is idiomatic, and each quartet is solidly constructed chamber music. The Ives Quartet plays each piece with fluency and confidence. Their interpretation shows that they are passionate about releasing what I assume will be a full cycle of Quincy Porter’s nine quartets.
The quartets are not presented chronologically. The disc opens with Quartet 3 and its bold fanfare introduction makes a great entry point for the pieces. Quartet 2 comes next, with heavy Bartok references (specifically Bartok’s second quartet, not a bad inspiration to have). String Quartet 1 in E minor is, in my opinion, the most serious of these four quartets (in terms of mood, not of stature). The music is dark and dense yet still lush. Quartet 4 is an odd mix of playful and morose which the Ives Quartet flawlessly navigates.
In general, I have to say that the Ives Quartet is definitely the kind of quartet to record cycles. They have a wonderful homogeneity of sound and expression which brings out many nuances in compositions that, in lesser hands, may otherwise all sound the same. The Ives Quartet accentuates the differences between each of these quartets while still speaking with a singular clear voice. I look forward to the next disc in the series and to any cycle of American composers that the Ives Quartet wants to record (William Schuman, for example, would be cool. So would Batzner).