The young Fry Street Quartet are the current Faculty Quartet in Residence at the School of the Arts of Utah State University. They debuted at Carnegie Hall and the NY Times called them “a triumph of ensemble playing.” The general theme of their self-produced double-SACD album is Voices of Modernism, and they include Beethoven in their selection of four progressive composers. The FSQ feels that even in the last of Beethoven’s early Op. 18 quartets he was already searching for a unique compositional voice – entirely different from that of Haydn and Mozart who preceded him. Of course in the violent contrasts of his late quartet Op. 132, he was expressing the artist’s struggle in no uncertain terms.
I found the Stravinsky quartet pieces rather colorless and unlyrical but enjoyed Rorem’s suite of ten movements for string quartet. This American composer created a series of often lyrical musical portraits in his episodic work which are colored – as is all of his music – by his love of vocal music. He reports that his intention was “to portray the schizoid temper of any artist – or indeed, any human…” Mark Scearce’s quartet was inspired by the fears connected with the transition into the new century – fears which turned out to be groundless. At least he was able to finish his quartet that he had started in 1999, but its postmodern slant is not my cup of capucinno.
String quartets are not my favorite sort of chamber music, and Beethoven’s have been some of the most difficult for me to get into. Yet I found I enjoyed both of them as well as the Rorem more than any quartet recordings I have auditioned in years. Part of this is undoubtedly the skilled ensemble playing of the Fry Street Quartet, but I reckon another part of the equation is the use of Ray Kimber’s IsoMike acoustic baffle system, which allows the use of high quality omni mikes while controlling the interference effects of intrachannel sounds which compromise clarity in many recordings. Specially-designed baffles in heart and egg shapes are mounted next to and between the mikes. One of the positive results is that the mikes are made more sensitive, and when this is combined with the enhanced resolving power of SACD reproduction the result is an astonishing clarity and transparency not often heard. The four players are not confined one to a channel of the 4.0-channel recording as with Tacet’s Real Surround SACDs and DVD-As; but there is no need to, since the four stringed instruments are clearly positioned in front of the listener with palpable left-to-right and front-to-back dimensionality.
– John Sunier