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Altius Quartet: “Dress Code” = Haydn Quartet in C major Op.74 No.3; Bolcom Three Rags; Arrangements of Dave Brubeck, Led Zeppelin, Ben E. King, and a-ha – Altius Quartet – Navona Records  

Altius Quartet: “Dress Code” = Haydn Quartet in C major Op.74 no.3. Bolcom Three Rags. Arrangements of Dave Brubeck, Led Zeppelin, Ben E. King, and a-ha – Altius Quartet (Joshua Ulrich and Andrew Giordano, violins. Andrew Krimm, viola. Zachary Reaves, cello) – Navona Records  NV6078, 55 minutes, (4/14/2017) ****:

Altius Quartet brings fresh life to a classic masterpiece within a contemporary framework…

Whatever possessed the Altius Quartet to come up with a program blending the talents of Franz Joseph Haydn and William Bolcom with four pop arrangements turns out be a most fortunate inspiration, and the Altius Quartet chose wisely and played well, laying out their sequence of interspersed music like one continuous scroll.

Haydn particularly benefits from this approach because it enables you to focus on and realize just how powerfully he creates his musical worlds. Each of the movements of his extraordinary String Quartet Op.74 No.1 has entirely its own personality and structure, each contains at its core an overwhelmingly affectionate joke, and each is blessed with rare beauties. The Quartet have captured this well, even adding to the occasion with a little joke of their own in the form of an unwritten crescendo on the opening chord of the first movement. Overall their playing is crisp and clean, with lots of attention paid to pivotal themes and having their way with Haydn’s frequent use of rustic drone effects, so that there is never a dull moment; and although they may be more arch than Haydn meant they inhabit most naturally his sudden moments of radiant poetry.

The Altius’ performances of William Bolcom’s Three Rags are similarly infectious and make you wonder why theirs is only the third recording (after the Ying and Aeolus)—once audiences hear this, you would think, recordings will proliferate. True to their creative nature, the Altius play the three Rags out of order, and each is a stunner.

Recorded in Grusin Hall at the University of Colorado in Boulder, the sound is quite amazingly clear and warm and involving, with lots of bite of bow on strings. The Quartet, which seems to be based in Colorado, derives its name from the motto of the modern Olympic games, “Citius, Altius, Fortius” (faster, higher, stronger.

—Laurence Vittes

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