Sony Classical is proud to announce the release of one of the most important and exciting collections of 2014; a new recording by the Juilliard String Quartet of Elliott Carter’s String Quartet No. 5, packaged with the reissue of the Juilliard Quartet’s masterful 1991 recordings of Carter’s String Quartets 1-4, all in a 2-CD set. The earlier recordings are justifiable classics, brilliant interpretations of some of the greatest pieces in the string quartet literature. To these, the String Quartet No. 5, recorded April 15 through 17 of 2013, is the crowning touch, both to Carter’s extraordinary career and to the special association between the Juilliard Quartet and the composer, one that spanned five decades. Elliott Carter: The Five String Quartets from Sony Classical.
In a new essay included in the liner notes, composer David Schiff (who studied with Carter at Juilliard and is the author of The Music of Elliott Carter) notes the historic connection between the group and the composer: “no ensemble has been as essential in bringing these works to life as the Juilliard String Quartet. The members of the quartet were not merely Carter's able executors – they premiered the Second (in 1960) and Third Quartets – they were his Manhattan neighbors and Juilliard School colleagues. Their performances grew out of friendships that spanned over half a century. In many ways, the music reflects the personalities and playing styles of the quartet's personnel.”
Since its founding in 1946 by first violinist Robert Mann and composer and Juilliard President William Schuman, the Juilliard String Quartet has been one of the world’s leading string quartets and at the forefront of contemporary classical music making (they have been indispensable champions of Bartók's six string quartets, the music of the Second Viennese school of composers, and that of Debussy, Ravel and Dutilleux). Their muscular sound sets them apart and their relationship with the composer makes them ideal interpreters of Carter’s quartets, compositions that stand at the height of the form. The composer’s ethos embraces an energetic mix of voices, each given equal weight, and his conscious avoidance of mechanical repetition produces music that is constantly changing, constantly involving. In these recordings, the Juilliard String Quartet musicians handle every technical challenge with assurance—including that of String Quartet No. 3, which splits the ensemble into two duos playing at two different tempos—and their confidence in and understanding of Carter’s dense beauty makes for gripping, exciting, and satisfying listening.
Each of these performances is definitive: the large scale First Quartet (1951) examines the history of the form while creating a sense of time that is both inward-turning and expansive; the Pulitzer Prize winning String Quartet No. 2 (1960), which Carter compared to the plays of Samuel Beckett, has the instruments talking at and past each other; the Third Quartet (1973), also a Pulitzer winner, is an extraordinarily complex rhythmic extrapolation of traditional forms; String Quartet No. 4 (1986) is closest to traditional forms, with the four musicians seeking consensus through argument. The new recording of String Quartet No. 5 (1995) exemplifies Carter’s lyrical late style and his extraordinary final period of creativity; he turned eighty-seven that year and continued to compose until his death at 103 in 2012. The twelve movements are brief, mercurial, full of rich expressive freedom couched in plain language.
Beyond their extremely high-level artistry, the Juilliard String Quartet has had a remarkable history of consistency and stability in discography and personnel through the decades. The Juilliard String Quartet made their first recordings on Columbia Records (now Sony Classical) in 1949. Robert Mann served as first violinist from 1946 until 1997, a key member of a living aesthetic memory and practice passed along to current cellist Joel Krosnick (since 1974) and second violinist Ronald Copes, who joined in 1997. In their positions as educators, the members of the quartet have trained young musicians who have gone on to populate many of the most important ensembles, including the Emerson, Tokyo, Brentano, Alexander, Lark and St. Lawrence quartets.
In Elliott Carter: The Five String Quartets, the long, close and fruitful friendship between musicians, music, and composer is as alive as ever.
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Larissa Slezak: Sony Music Masterworks
Larissa.Slezak@sonymusic.com / 212.833.6075
Christina Jensen PR