Gallante GG-1024, 52:55 (Distrib. Albany) ****:
The Fine Arts String Quartet (c. 1942-1979) was a Chicago-based ensemble whose definitive character coalesced in 1946, just after World War II. In 1954 the Fine Arts Quartet broke away from its radio commitment to ABC in Chicago and began a series of free-lance tours to some 270 cities in 28 countries. Later, besides establishing concerts in the Chicago North Shore area, the ensemble became affiliated with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. They recorded for a significant number of record labels, and the CD format is beginning to issue a representative sample of their consistently high-quality work.
The two Russian quartets featured on this CD derive from a Gasparo LP (GS-203) from 1979. The quartets themselves are products of World War II sensibility, and both are dedicated to the famed Soviet ensemble Beethoven String Quartet. The Shostakovich is perhaps the more reliant on folk idioms for its inspiration, and there are decided echoes of Bartok in several passages. The two last movements of the five-movement work seem to embody the emotional tenor of the work, which is gravely contemplative. The third movement, an Allegro non troppo in 2/4 time, offers a bit of consolation.
The Prokofiev F Major first came to my attention via Pina Carmirelli on Decca. Its poignant, ternary Adagio has a Caucasus sensibility of eerie mysticism; this, after a risoluto opening movement of stern character. When the phantasmagoria clears, we can savor the coloration of a bristling and cantering figures, which owe textural debts to Borodin. Great resonance from George Sopkin’s cello. The final movement Allegro opens in a moody spirit of Bartok, then the animated writing becomes symphonic and syncopated. We can hear motoric elements reminiscent of the ballet Romeo and Juliet, though the lean and spare figures could be Stravinsky. The writing in high harmonics for Abraham Loft’s violin against the low cello makes for good sonic separation for your sound system. As the colors deepen, Prokofiev may well be paying homage to Ravel’s opus in the same key.
— Gary Lemco