- Reflections on the Theme B-A-C-H, for string quartet
The Czech Republic's Stamic Quartet takes its name from the Bohemian composer whose name is more often spelled Stamitz, and the group has specialized in Czech Classical and Romantic repertory. You might not pick out their background as likely to produce strong recordings of Sofia Gubaidulina's string quartets, but try these out: they're extraordinary. Gubaidulina's quartets are all in single movements. The "String Quartet No. 4," composed in 1993, uses electronic elements to shift prerecorded music by a quarter tone, but even the earlier quartets, although entirely acoustic, seemed to suggest electronic textures. Gubaidulina revels in small motives that develop through small shifts in texture or tonal content. Her music is at once very rigorously structured and quite sensuous on its surface. It is, moreover, very challenging for the players, who have to master extended techniques like striking the strings with rubber balls while maintaining high degrees of tension and tonal precision. The Stamic Quartet succeeds on all counts, with astonishing results in the passages where Gubaidulina pushes the string quartet into unusual textures. Hear, for example, the uncanny "beats" as the strings rise to the top of their ranges in the "Reflections on the theme B-A-C-H" (2002), which shares techniques with the four numbered quartets. In the end, there's something almost mystical in the discipline of Gubaidulina's music, and the Stamic Quartet nails it. Highly recommended.