Introspective Odyssey – Skyros Quartet – Music by BRITTEN, TURINA & SIBELIUS – Parma Recordings/ Navona Records CD NV6005, 51:18 (9/14/15) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

This is the debut release on Navona Records by the Skyros Quartet. It’s an interesting program that follows three composers on a journey through early 20th-century Europe, reflecting on various experiences including the life of a student, the rush of bullfighting, and the folklore of Scandinavia.

Written while he was a student, the Three Divertimenti by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) creates a dazzling and witty display of youthful enthusiasm. Weaving a narrative tone poem set in Spain, Joaquín Turina (1882-1949) presents an exotic showpiece in La Oración del Torero (The Prayer of the Bullfighter), with a flamenco flair through the idiom of French post-impressionism. Subtitled “Voces Intimae” (“Intimate Voices”), Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) wrote these words on the manuscript over three dark and hushed chords in the third movement, marking the center of String Quartet in D minor, Op. 56. 

The quartet plays these three works with enthusiasm and precision. Although each composition is very different in origin, the combination makes for a fine program. Sonically, this is a very fine disc. Recorded in Engel Hall in Lincoln Nebraska, the strings sound very smooth, with a nice stereo spread across the two front channels. I also listened to this disc through a Dolby Pro-logic decoder, and the stereo tracks had enough ambiance to provide a nice surround effect in the rear speakers. Still, I generally prefer stereo to be left as stereo.

The Skyros Quartet has been busy concertizing since it was formed in 2010. It’s named for a quartet of islands in the Aegean Sea. This is a fine disc of some lovely 20th century music. I hope it is the first of many released by Navona. Recommended!

—Mel Martin