My familiarity with the Pacifica Quartet’s wonderful set of the Mendelssohn Quartets whetted my appetite for this venture into Twentieth Century repertoire. Janacek’s Second Quartet (1928) is one of the great musical monuments to the exigencies of love – passionate, anguished, nostalgic and exquisitely beautiful. In his later years the composer fell in love with a woman 38 years younger than he. Their relationship was never consummated and lived in their communicated words, as both were married. You can see the tear-stained letters and the ripped pages through the music. The Pacifica Quartet emphasize the contrasting sections by abruptly shifting tempos and dynamics. The result is disconcerting at times, but so is love that is unfulfilled. Their performance is intense and scintillating.
Ruth Crawford-Seeger (1902-53) was a noted and successful new music advocate by 1931, studying with Henry Cowell and being the first woman winner of the Guggenheim fellowship. In 1932 she married composer Charles Seeger and beget children Mike and Peggy who along with Pete became leaders in the American Folk Music revival. Her 1931 Quartet is a short, concise study in anxious, atonal motivic fragments. Only the compelling andante breaks the mood which preceeds the jagged conclusion.
Paul Hindemith was one of the composers who turned to neoclassicism after World War I to separate themselves from the excesses of romanticism that went before. Instrumental clarity, logical structures and smaller forms of musical expression (chamber music and Kammermusik for small ensembles) mimicked 18th century forms. His Fourth Quartet is written in an arch form of five movements. The fugal first movement is pensive, darkly beautiful, rising to a climax, meekly evaporating to conclusion. The second and fourth movements are scherzos – agitated, angular and exciting. The slow middle movement is the heartfelt soul of this quartet, hypnotically intense, and passionately lyrical. The Rondo finale is a convivial discourse punctuated with rhythmic underpinnings. This is a quartet worth the effort to get to know.
The Pacifica Quartet executes these works flawlessly, with a close and clearly defined recording space. There is a touch of brightness in the higher registers which reflect the intensity of the music.
— Robert Moon