String Quartet No.3
Reflections on the Nature of Water
String Quartet No.2
The Group for Contemporary Music
[Curtis Macomber & Carol Zeavin (violins), Lois Martin (viola), Fred Sherry (cello) & Daniel Druckman (marimba)]
Recorded 31 March to 2 April & 22 September 1996 in the Recital Hall, Music Division, SUNY, Purchase, New York
Reviewed by: Rob Witts
Reviewed: June 2006
CD No: NAXOS 8.559260
Duration: 67 minutes
Jacob Druckman (1928-1996) is best known for his large-scale orchestral scores (Windows earned him the 1972 Pulitzer Prize). However, on the strength of these recordings, originally released on Koch International and now snapped up by Naxos for its “American Classics” series, his chamber music deserves greater recognition.
Druckman studied with Copland, and like that of his tutor, much of his music is at the accessible end of modernism, and with a distinctive character of its own. The selection here is book-ended by two string quartets: the classical Third (1981) and the more experimental Second (1966). While these works differ in their structural thinking, they share Druckman’s engaging ear for timbre and texture.
In the one-movement Quartet No.2, these sounds form a loose, improvisatory narrative driven by sudden contrasts, whereas No.3 has a more distinct, though ingenious, plan, which mixes variation and ritornello ideas. There is an engaging fluidity to this music: melodies briefly surface and disappear, and ideas continue to evolve and blossom in unexpected ways. The punning title of Reflections on the Nature of Water masks a series of thoughtful and evocative etudes for solo marimba. Druckman uses the otherworldly austerity of the instrument to good effect; there is a meditative quality to these short studies, which the composer called “reflections of (Debussy’s) magical preludes”. If less dazzling than their model, they are also less sentimental, and reward repeated listening.
Finally, there is Dark Wind (1994), a duet for violin and cello that was among Druckman’s last works. Like the two string quartets, it starts with a single pitch which broadens into dialogue; however, there is a greater sense of urgency here, and the piece is all the better for it, a fast, edgy recital that finally vanishes in a puff of smoke.
The performances are good and well recorded, making this a worthwhile introduction to Druckman’s distinctive and playful music.