- String Quartet No. 1: From the Salvation Army, for string quartet, S. 57 (K. 2A1)
- Scherzo, for string quartet, S. 83
- String Quartet No. 2, for string quartet, S. 58 (K. 2A3)
It has been awhile since anyone recorded a new disc of Charles Ives' string quartets, and here the Blair String Quartet takes the plunge. He only wrote two numbered quartets that are like equivalents to night and day -- the radiant, camp meeting-inspired "First Quartet" and the furiously punk-meets-transcendentalism "Second." "String Quartet No. 1, From the Salvation Army," dates from 1898 and contains some of Ives' finest instrumental music couched in a reasonably stable and conventional style. The opening Chorale of the "First Quartet" is decidedly not played at a pace of Andante and appears uncharacteristically zippy. The Blair, in its haste, fudges a key transition in the last third of the piece. However, this need for speed works well for the second-movement Prelude, although it fails to cover for a rough edit at one point. The Offertory is all right, but experienced ears are starved for more "love" in this music -- a case of point would be the old Vox LP of the "First Quartet" by the Kohon String Quartet, where the music is handled lovingly, and not in a winking, tongue-in-cheek manner. The only other works Ives wrote for string quartet are the Scherzo "Holding Your Own" and the Intermezzo from the cantata "The Celestial Country." Here the Blair opts only for the Scherzo, and it's good -- the quartet does a decent job of spelling out the wedge shape in the middle section, which you are supposed to be able to see in your mind in addition to hearing. It is a pity the Blair did not include the Intermezzo, which would have made this survey truly complete, not to mention bringing the program past the 50-minute mark. Judging from the way the similar "First Quartet" comes off, perhaps it's for the better that the Blair Quartet didn't record it. The Blair seem almost impatient to get to the "Second Quartet," which is a work they seem to know well and have probably played for a while, judging from the gloss and sheen on the second-movement "Arguments," which is normally pretty messy business. The opening of "The Call of the Mountains" is very nicely done and paced with a view to achieve the hypnotic transcendence that Ives indicates were his intentions. Nevertheless, once you get into the three against four sections, the reading tends to get a little sharply defined and propulsive -- rather stirring up the mood. Therefore, while the Blair turns in a good reading of the "Second Quartet," it's still a mixed bag. If you need an inexpensive recording of the Ives quartets, then this will fit the bill, although one almost wishes for such purpose that Vox would simply bring the Kohon Quartet recording back.