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sounds of america resignation has a different kind of impact when it grows out of and responds to the conflicted passion of the first movement. When it is played, as the Cypress do, with the lines and layers of harmonic growth applied with seemingly personal intimacy, a bitter, depressing aspect is revealed that is only mitigated, not absolved, by the movement’s final richly intoned resolution, then underlined again by the conflicted last movement. Laurence Vittes

Bartók . Fairouz . Schuller ‘As it was, is, and will be’ Bartók String Quartet No 4 Fairouz Lamentation and Satire Schuller String Quartet No 4 (two recordings) Borromeo Quartet GM Recordings F GM2080 (75’ • DDD)

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Quartets from the New England Conservatory’s resident strings The Boston-based Borromeo String Quartet are a fearless ensemble who appear to savour every sonic and atmospheric challenge. On their new disc, they take up a 20th-century classic, Bartók’s String Quartet No 4, and two striking recent works requiring similarly scrupulous attention to expressive extremity.

In a curious and welcome departure, the recording contains two performances of Gunther Schuller’s String Quartet No 4 – one in concert and the next captured in the studio. The juxtaposition lets the listener go beneath the surface of Schuller’s invigorating and moody writing, with its homages to Mozart and Beethoven, and plunge into a brooding and vehement sound world redolent of Bartók (minus the folk inspiration). Both performances are gripping, but the slightly more spacious studio version heightens Schuller’s masterful musical suspense.

The Borromeo players achieve the special balancing act of patience and ferocity in Mohammed Fairouz’s Lamentation and Satire, an intensely felt score in which the instruments engage in compelling duos, a fugue of doleful urgency and a farewell utterly bereft of hope.

The disc begins with the Bartók, a piece that remains jolting almost 85 years after its creation. The music requires the utmost concentration if the intricate rhythmic figures and eerie effects are to seize the ears. The Borromeo do so through painstaking adherence to dynamics, accents, texture, syncopations over the bar and telepathic interplay. As played by this brilliant ensemble, the Bartók is an exhilarating expedition that sets the scene for the bold journeys to come in the Schuller and Fairouz works. Donald Rosenberg

Structural sweep: the Pacifica Quartet

Miaskovsky . Shostakovich Miaskovsky String Quartet No 13, Op 86 Shostakovich String Quartets – No 5, Op 92; No 6, Op 101; No 7, Op 108; No 8, Op 110 Pacifica Quartet Cedille M M CATNOCDR 90000 127 (117’ • DDD)

Pacifica pit Shostakovich against his senior Miaskovsky Not long ago, battle lines were drawn between those who championed Shostakovich as a dissident and others who dismissed him as a Stalinist sympathiser and apologist. Now the crossfire has died down and musical priorities have shifted again. Performances once judged mainly by the level of redblooded Russianness in the playing are now assessed by how well they fit his work within the musical canon.

Finding a balance between these perspectives – let’s call them the front-line journalist versus the detached historian – comes naturally to the Chicago-based Pacifica Quartet, whose recordings for Cedille have succeeded best when linking early-modern and late-romantic repertory. The Pacifica, too young to be scarred by the political debate, garnered much attention last season with their Shostakovich cycle, which Cedille has released in the first of a four-volume series, each to include an additional string quartet by another notable Soviet-era composer.

The Pacifica’s first volume starts with the Fifth Quartet (1952) and culminates in the Eighth (1960). The playing has neither the ferocious intensity of the Kronos Quartet in the Eighth, nor the riddled angst of the Borodin Quartet in general, but instead aims for greater sweep, structurally, offering a coherence and emotional integrity that link these works together. Nikolai

Miaskovsky, an older contemporary of Shostakovich, rounds out the disc with his String Quartet No 13 (1950). Dated two years before the other works here – and notably more conservative in style – the Miaskovsky proves that being traditional need not be at the cost of musical interest. But it succeeds best in placing Shostakovich as a blazing revolutionary by comparison. Ken Smith Shostakovich String Quartet No 8 – selected comparisons: Kronos Quartet (4/91) (NONE) 7559-79242-2 Borodin Quartet (MELO) MELCD1001077

Moran Trinity Requiem. a Seven Sounds Unseen. b Notturno in Weiss c Blackburn Requiem for a Requiem, remix (after Moran’s Trinity Requiem). d ad Trinity Youth Chorus b Musica Sacra c The Esoterics d Grassauer Bläserensemble; Iowa Percussion Innova M 244 (69’ • DDD)

A youth requiem in memory of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 The first step with any piece by Robert Moran is to figure out exactly which composer we’re dealing with. The former student of Milhaud and Berio? The Cagian conceptualist of aleatoric ‘city’ pieces? The cheeky post-minimalist of The Dracula Diary?

Moran is arguably at his best when dealing with voices, and choral forces in particular belie his trickster image by reaching deeply into the heart. Commissioned to write a 10th-anniversary commemoration piece for September 11, 2001 by Trinity Wall Street – the church most directly affected by the tragedy – Moran drew his response almost literally out of the mouths of babes.

Trinity Requiem, written for the Trinity Youth Chorus (aided by three adult singers)

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GRAMOPHONE DECEMBER 2011 XI