- Miniatures, for string quartet
- Culai, for string quartet
The string quartet Brooklyn Rider, sure enough from Brooklyn, has tried to combine a crossover image with a rigorous approach to contemporary repertory, choosing energetic pieces that might well appeal to rock audiences. One can quibble with individual details of what they do and yet admire the success of the whole package. The 2013 release A Walking Fire offers a good example of what they do with three pieces marked by dance rhythms of various kinds. In a way, Brooklyn Rider tries to carry Bartók's world forward to the present day, and it's hard to argue that if Bartók were alive today, he wouldn't have collaborated with gypsy musicians. The first work, "Culai," by Russian composer Ljova (Lev Zhurbin), is a tribute to gypsy violinist and singer Nicolae Neacsu of the band Taraf de Haïdouks. It is a high-spirited, hard-edged work, and it's an absolute rocking and rolling delight. The final "Three Miniatures for string quartet" by one of the group's violinists, Colin Jacobsen, are based on Persian classical music, and, unusually for performer-composed music in an exotic idiom, they show a good deal of immersion in that tradition. The work is meditative in nature and makes a fine counterpoint to the high-energy "Culai." The Bartók "String Quartet No. 2, Sz 47," is an ancestor of both these pieces, and the program as a whole holds together beautifully. The work's central Allegro molto movement, based on Arabic material Bartók heard in Algeria (not Nigeria, as the notes state), gets an intense, forceful performance. That's not the only way to go with it; the piece really carries the humor with which Bartók almost always imbued folk rhythms. But Brooklyn Rider's interpretation works well enough in this context, and it is very easy to imagine this program gaining fans from beyond the traditional string quartet audience. If you've been curious about Brooklyn Rider, here's a good place to start.