“The American String Project 2014” = TCHAIKOVSKY: Quartet No. 3 in E-flat, Op. 30; HAYDN: Quartet No. 61 in d, Op. 76 No. 2, “Fifths”; GRIEG: Holberg Suite, Op. 40, Mvmt. 2; BRAHMS: Quartet No. 3 in B-flat, Op. 67, Mvmt. 3; SHOSTAKOVICH Quartet No. 3 in F, Op. 73, Mvmt. 3 – The American String Project/ Barry Lieberman, arranger – MSR MS 1522, 75:08 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
The American String Project was formed on September 11th, 2001, certainly a day that would preclude any kind of excitement or enthusiasm that such an undertaking might otherwise deserve. Nevertheless the exploratory meeting took place, and about eight months later the first concert occurred. Ten years after that initial meeting the final concerts took place, with the ensemble up to six CDs by my count, and over 100 transcriptions of string quartets and quintets in the repertory, Mr. Lieberman being the creator. I am not sure why the project ended, or what the purpose of the three year hiatus was, but now the project enters its next phase, with educational endeavors added.
I must admit from the outset that I am not a fan of such arrangements; generally speaking I find that they add very little to what the composer initially envisioned, though I must also admit that some great composers have tried their hands at it, including the original authors of a work. Usually this was for very practical reasons involving increased performances, but not always. And of course many like to think that added richness and warmth and emotional power, etc., come along with these types of arrangements. Not always so in my opinion.
However, I cannot fault anyone who likes to hear these things, as many respond quite positively to them in many ways. Usually I find myself most attracted to the idea of how well a large string section can manage the technical difficulties, and so it proves the case here. The ASP is a crackerjack band with plenty of chops and a remarkable tonal allure. There is really nothing to criticize. The interpretations (conductorless) are quite apt and stylish, and from that standpoint everything goes along quite nicely. The Haydn really caught my attention as it poses the most difficult ensemble execution, but the Tchaikovsky Third, always a bear no matter who is performing it, must have commanded some difficult interpretational issues not just regarding technique, but in balance and voicing. Lieberman meets the challenge with arrangements that seem to cover all of the potential pitfalls.
Like I said, this isn’t really my cup of tea, but many will enjoy it, especially if you have been following the previous issues. They have received generally good notices in Audiophile Audition, with Mr. Lemco covering releases here and here, while Mr. Passarella opines on the two-CD set with accompanying DVD here.
Those who enjoy this type of presentation have no need to hesitate.