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Monday, June 3, 2013

R. Murray Schafer, Quatuors a cordes 8-12 String Quartets, Quatuor Molinari

The string quartet over the last 250 years has evolved into one of the primary vehicles of chamber classical. In the right hands, it is of course along with the piano sonata and the symphony (etc.) a foundational institution of classical art music. Like anything else that demands a high degree of inspiration and brilliance, there are very few who scale the highest peaks of the form.

After hearing the Molinari Quartet perform R. Murray Schafer's 8-12 String Quartets (Atma Classique ACD2 2672), I must say that one of those masters is with us. His later string quartets are up there in a class that includes Bartok, Carter and a handful of others, or so it sounds for me after listening closely to this two-CD set.

It most certainly helps that Quatuor Molinari are immensely talented themselves and that they are special champions of Schafer's quartets, having performed them frequently and enthusiastically, having commissioned some, and having gotten inside the music to the inner core of what each is about.

The later quartets were written by Schafer between 2000 and 2012. Each has drama, gravity and ecstasy, inner meditations and totalized Schafer-world expressions, in equal proportions. One of Canada's very finest living composers and author of the landmark book The Tuning of the World, Schafer has progressed in these works to a point where he has absorbed the natural and cultural worlds around him, mastered the modern idiom and the fine subtleties of great quartet-string writing, and remade it all according to his expressive needs. So for example Quartet No. 10, "Winter Birds," transposes into vivid quartet writing a very cold winter he spent in rural Canada, and the birds who came to his feeder daily, their subdued chirps, the silence that otherwise enveloped the surrounding world. It is poetic and musical, moving, brilliant.

And that's what these quartets all are, each in their own way but each fitting together in sequence as a piece of the whole.

It's the quartet art in all its subtlety, its excitement and inner complexity. The Molinari Quartet plays the music like they were born to it, as in many ways they indeed have.

A seminal release! Schafer and the Molinari Quartet reign supreme. May they continue long.


  1. I recently came across Schafer's quartets by accident. I don't know a lot about modern chamber music, but they seem to start from Shostakovich and work forward (not a bad place to start). Reminiscent of Schnittke on occasion. This seems to be an excellent series of works with a consistently high level of inspiration. The only odd thing is that what I've heard of his orchestral work does not seem to be in quite the same style... The quartets certainly ought to be heard - they are really great stuff.

    1. Thanks Eye!
      Yes the orchestral music I have heard of his does not quite have the same style. But there is a great deal of his music I have not heard at all so I don't know what the rest is like. These quartets are excellent, I agree. He also wrote a great book called "The Tuning of the World".
      Thks again for chiming in,

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. I deleted this one only because it was posted twice...and I accidentally put them both on...