THE ARTS FUSE:
Year-end CD Round-up, Part 2

THE ARTS FUSE: Year-end CD Round-up, Part 2

BY JONATHAN BLUMHOFER

"One of the year’s best chamber-music albums is the Jasper Quartet’s Unbound, a survey of substantial, recent pieces for string quartet by Caroline Shaw, Missy Mazzoli, Annie Gosfield, Judd Greenstein, David Lang, Donnacha Dennehy, and Ted Hearne.
What makes it so great? Phenomenal playing, for one: the Jasper’s play with remarkable technical assurance, intense energy, and a level of expressivity that’s simply commanding. You care about and are engaged in whatever they’re playing because, well, they are.
On top of that, the Jaspers have chosen an appealing program for Unbound that, at some points, is quite thoughtful and touching and, at others, purely exhilarating. So one proceeds from the whimsical, glassy harmonics of Shaw’s Valencia to the spunky rhythmic profile of Mazzoli’s Death Valley Junction to the jagged, shifting textures of Gosfield’s World War 2-resistance-inspired The Blue Horse Walks on the Horizon to the exuberance of Judd Greenstein’s Four on the Floor and, somehow, the pieces’ varied ideas and logic are, independently, gripping. Ditto for Lang’s haunting almost all the time, Dennehy’s intense Pushpulling, and a new quartet arrangement of Hearne’s “Excerpts from the middle of something” (from Law of Mosaics).
More than that, despite no strongly unifying stylistic threads, these seven pieces relate, expressively, to one another in often striking ways (check out the Gosfield and Dennehy scores next to each other to see what I mean). Indeed, if there’s one takeaway from this disc (and there’s more than one, to be sure), it’s the sheer versatility of expression still to be mined out of the already-heavily-explored genre of the string quartet. That may not sound like much but, if you’re looking for inviting repertoire not by Beethoven, Schubert, Bartók, or Shostakovich, well, you need to check out Unbound."

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