Elliott Carter – String Quartets 1 & 5/Pacifica Quartet

0 of 5 stars

String Quartet No.1
String Quartet No.5

Pacifica Quartet [Simin Ganatra & Sibbi Bernhardsson (violins), Masumi Per Rostad (viola) & Brandon Vamos (cello)]

Recorded March & June 2007 in Foellinger Auditorium, Krannert Center, Urbana, Illinois

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: June 2008
CD No: NAXOS 8.559362
Duration: 60 minutes



Elliott Carter (born 1908) has so far written five string quartets and has intimated that a sixth is in the pipeline. As he heads towards his centenary (on 11 December 2008) it’s good news indeed that Naxos is issuing Carter’s string quartets in two separate volumes (the second is to come) and with an ensemble that is no stranger to performing all five.

String Quartet No.1 (1951) is a breakthrough piece in Carter’s output. Written on a large scale with the three (main) movements extending one to another, this is music both deep and vivid with many changes of character and many layers of complexity. From the opening cello recitative (powerfully declaimed here), it seems that an extensive journey is undertaken, one that – musically speaking – includes scherzo and slow movement and yet, for all the meticulous organisation (not least in the closing ‘Variations’, the longest and most extensive movement) and coming-together of Carter’s (then) musical preoccupations, the music can be absorbed as an emotional (even evocative) tour de force.

There’s no doubting the Pacifica Quartet’s familiarity and commitment to Elliott Carter’s music; to the extent that these musicians ‘bring home’ the First Quartet in just under 40 minutes, a work that normally takes longer to play (Bayan Northcott, in his booklet note, suggests 45) and which here is delivered without caution or doubt.

String Quartet No.5 (1995) is, says the composer, “a farewell to the previous four and an exploration of a new vision.” This 20-minute, 12-section piece enjoys a lightness of touch that is beguiling, and given the aphoristic and quick-change nature of each ‘movement’ there can be no suggestion of stasis. An interlocking whole is the end result.

The Pacifica Quartet has been closely recorded in rather too reverberant an acoustic; but that is nothing compared to the players’ artistry and the compelling music. Needless to say that the second disc is keenly anticipated.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content