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Concours Molinari 2005-2006

Atma Classique ACD2 2368, 46:12.,

Review by Steve Koenig

The Molinari Quartet's Third International Competition for Composition For String Quartet, 2005-2006

The title pretty much says it. This is a live recording of the four winners of this Canadian quartet's biannual competition for composers under forty. The works must be unpublished and under twenty minutes. Each composer provided cogent, informative notes in the French/English booklet.

Interestingly, the quartets on the discs are sequenced here from first to (both) third prizes, allowing you to compare your preferences with the jury's. You can decide whether or not to join the included applause following each quartet. Below are notes I took, pretending I was a judge on a new reality show, Best New Quartets. If only…

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Kazutomo Yamamoto. 1st Prize. Japan.
Mare Taranquitatis

It starts slow, using space well, some glissandi. Plucks as percussion lead to tango and other dancelike rhythms, then gets wispy. Six minutes in begins a section with much yiddishkeit in the first violin's melody, and then one discerns the similarities to Japanese melody. Yamato writes that the quartet uses "three notes E flat (S), E and A," which are present in that order in Okinawan, Indian, Gypsy and Dorian scales as well as traditional scales of other parts of Southeast Asia. He relates how the lunar "sea" is a crater and alludes to multiple perspectives of the sea contained in this quartet. Very moving.

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José Luis Hurtado.
2nd Prize. México.
L'arditto e quasi stridente gesto

Wide dynamic variation. Lots of gestures, but I'm unsure to what end. Hurtado's only notes: "It has two main parts of distinctive musical character played continuously with represent two different visions of the same tense and impatient feeling." Despite a "studied with" pedigree of Lachenmann, Ferneyhough, Lindberg, Birtwistle and other notables, I remain unconvinced. Is the performance not strident enough? I need more time to "get" this work, to figure out why the ending of sustained high notes ended it; it feels tacked on.

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Luca Antignani. 3rd Prize, shared. Italy.
Il funerale del carnevale

Strikingly beautiful lines, then low quavering tones, organ-like. Based on a Ligurian folk tune. Section in statis - hypnotic - the song stretched out into abstract threads. Squeaks integrated with pizzicato, turning into a lurching dance. Tensely powerful. The best and most coherent of the four works.

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Stephen Yip. 3rd Prize, shared. Hong Kong.
Yi Bi

Lines of tone lead the way. Road bumps, then pointillistic pizzicato. The work becomes very busy, in a good way: lines knitted into burls. A couple of whale sounds, a swarm of bees, then a quiet coda. The title means one brush. The composer discusses the correlation with Chinese calligraphy; connecting, pull up, push down, lines, densities and textures. One feels always in motion in Yi Bi, and the journey is a rich one.

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Over the course of three playings, three of these four really grew on me. The Molinaris have recorded all eight of R. Murray Schafer's quartets (#7 was a commission, #8 was a première) for Atma, as well as CDs of the two previous Concours. I look forward to encountering these as well.

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