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If you're gonna listen to one version of Kalabis' Second String Quartet, you might as well listen to two.  The Panocha strip away some of the bite and harshness and deliver a smoother, more meticulous rendition.  The slower music generally sounds more beautiful here.  So outta the gate, one can hear contrasting styles.  Best to have both, of course.  (The Panocha barely gets the nod.)  Ladislav Kubík short String Quartet in One Movement follows.  The early 80s era work is at times a taut, nervous ball of energy, at others an almost grim, nervous slow grind.  Astringent and dissonant, packing in all the string quartet tricks in a short span - think Webern, Bartok, and nameless avant garde composers mashed together - the piece moves along with striking logic, with no musical idea coming close to wearing out its welcome.  Vladimír Sommer's String Quartet in D Minor ends the short recording.  It starts off gently, beautifully, harking back to late 19th Century music, but after little more than a minute, the music adds some intensity.  It never really sounds harsh or modernist as its mid-50s vintage might imply.  In that it's sort of like Martinu, but it sounds nothing like Martinu.  The Adagio ends up upping the beauty and the tension, somehow, and the concluding Vivace adds more energy and pulsating energy alternating with playful, light music that again harks back to the 19th Century, or maybe the early 20th.  One may detect whiffs of Korngold, too, which is no bad thing.  All things considered, it works rather well.

Of course the Panocha deliver the goods, and sound is better than expected given vintage and source.


A second disc of chamber music by Jia Daqun.  The disc opens with Flavor of Bashu for two violins, piano, and percussion.  A blend of western and eastern styles and sounds, one can easily think of it as an even more eastern Bartok, with hints of John Cage thrown in.  That doesn't really do justice as a description, but it's decent shorthand, and fans of dissonant music and some aggressive percussion may very well dig this piece a whole lot.  Counterpoint of Times switches over to a wind ensemble written using the golden section ratio in parts.  The bright piece sounds more vaguely avant-garde French than Chinese, but that's OK, too.  It lacks the impact of the opener, but it ain't too shabby.  Next is the String Quartet from 1988, and it offers a basically perfect merging of Chinese folk tune inspired music and avant garde string quartet writing one hears more commonly.  You get the night music pizzicato thing and glissandi, and so forth, but here it emerges even more colorful and varied than is often the case.  Muy bueno.  The disc closes out with the brief The Prospect of Coloured Desert, for Violin, Cello, Percussion, and both the Sheng and Pipa, so this work has the most decidedly eastern sound to it.  Jia, does not fall back on straight up folk music at all.  Instead, the instruments play fully contemporary, abstract music, like an up to date Bartok.  The more distinctive and unusual sound makes it stand out more than the other works, which says something.  Overall, the music sounds most compelling and makes the listener want to seek out yet more works by the composer. 

Tip-top playing.  Tip-top sound.


Picked up on a lark when spotted on closeout, this disc ended up far surpassing any reasonable or unreasonable expectations I may have held.  The pleasant surprises start with Korngold's Unvergänglichkeit.  Tuneful, yes, as expected.  Lush, kinda, yeah.  But more than that.  The theme of immortality sparked the composer to write music that presages Messiaen's later religiously themed good stuff.  Karl Goldmark offers good, (literally) old-fashioned German lied in the Schubert and Brahms tradition, never daring to tread an original path.  But that doesn't matter a whit since the songs works so darned well, melodic and unchallenging but unyieldingly inviting and lovely.  Cornelia Hübsch nails her part, singing with beauty and superb diction, with Charles Spencer tickling the ivories in a most becoming way.  Superb in every way.


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