URI CAINE: Twelve Caprices – Arditti String Q. – Winter & Winter 910-171, 61:56 [Distr. by Allegro] ***:
There are absolutely no notes regarding the composer or the music included with this package, though the twelve paintings by Mamiko Takayanagi are reproduced in full color, ostensibly the inspiration for each quartet caprice given here. And they have names, which might help (these are rather simple abstract paintings): paradise-spring; winter song; ocean; summer time; sunshine; midnight; fallen leaf; shooting star; carousel; glitter; sound to spring; and dance with the south wind. Fortunately the Internet does give some information about Caine. He is a jazz and classical pianist and composer, though he seems more interested in jazz through his reworking of classical pieces. He also performs as a solo jazz pianist. In 2009 he was nominated for Best Classical Crossover Album for his work The Othello Syndrome, a re-imagined the opera Othello as a modern piece featuring soul singer Bunny Sigler. He seems fairly prolific, with all of his music being recorded by the Winter & Winter record company. These Twelve Caprices must be one of the most serious classical works he has done to date and no less an ensemble than the magnificent Arditti String Quartet has seen fit to take it up.
It is impossible to judge a person’s overall music from only one piece, especially someone who appears as eclectic as Caine, so I must confine myself to this work alone in trying to assess it. Overall I found the whole thing a little tiring in total, and followed the paintings and their titles as the movements progressed. Caine evidently sees them much differently than I do, which means it might be a mistake for me to follow or for him to display the paintings with their titles. The music is basically tonal, though it is a tonality devoid of center—you will not hear any I-IV-V7-I progressions, though there are passages where the tonality seems to gel and we get some kind of recognizable patterns to follow. But I did not hear a lot of difference among the movements, almost as if the same material was being used in juxtaposed fashion with certain tempo changes, and it is here where the sameness sets in. If the piece was half this length it might be better, or if you listen to just a few movements at a time it is far more interesting. As is, with the title in place, it’s almost as though a full-piece sit-through is expected.
The recorded sound is wonderful, and the Arditti have never sounded better; much of this music is quite technical in nature. I look forward to hearing more music from Mr. Caine, and perhaps then I will return to this and re-evaluate. As for now, cautiously recommended.