Elliott Carter: The Five String Quartets
This 2014 Sony release brings together all of the Juilliard String Quartet's digital recordings of the five string quartets of Elliott Carter, the first four having been recorded between 1990 and 1991, and the fifth recorded in 2013. While other ensembles have given noteworthy readings of these complex and challenging modernist works, perhaps only the Juilliard has had the technical virtuosity and expressive depth to master all five quartets, as well as a special connection to the composer as a friend and colleague. Carter's work with the Juilliard was essential to the comprehension of his intentions, and the musicians' contributions to the discussions gave Carter the opportunity to clarify his music. The writing of the quartets spanned the peak years of the avant-garde, from 1951 to 1995, and Carter developed his own systems and strategies, including his innovation of metric modulation, the use of chronometric and psychological time, and the characterization of the quartet's parts in dramatic dialogues. While these aspects of his music invite adventurous listeners to explore his methods, the string quartets have not won over a large audience and are still thought to be difficult. Nevertheless, they are landmarks of 20th century chamber music, alongside the great quartets of Bartók, Schoenberg, and Shostakovich, and this set is essential listening for all Carter aficionados.