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Jefferson Friedman: Quartets

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Audio CD, April 26, 2011
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

American composer Jefferson Friedman's music has been called 'impossible to resist' by The New
York Times, and Sequenza 21 reports, '[Mr. Friedman] goes a lot further toward sustaining interest and
tension than composers twice his age (and with Pulitzer Prizes).' His work has been performed throughout
the United States and abroad, most notably at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall and Avery Fisher Hall, Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Columbia University's Miller Theatre, the Bowery Ballroom, (Le) Poisson Rouge, and the American Academy in Rome. Jefferson Friedman: Quartets includes pristine yet passionate recordings of the composer's second and third quartets, works that demand to be considered modern masterpieces.
The Baltimore-based experimental electronic duo Matmos contributes two mind-bending 'remixes' to this album, using the quartet recordings as source material. Known for their pop-leaning music concrete soundscapes, Matmos has come to define a new generation of 'found sound' artists. M. C. (Martin) Schmidt and Drew Daniel are the core members, but they frequently collaborate with other artists, including most notably Björk, So Percussion, and J Lesser.


Jefferson Friedman is a tough composer to pigeonhole, given his high-energy eclecticism and his penchant for free appropriation of both rock and classical conventions. He has an original, compelling voice as well as ideas that draw you in and make you want to see where he will take them; yet if you listen closely, his basic materials are essentially the same as those that his predecessors have used, only juxtaposed in different, often daring ways.

If you think of the two string quartets here, Mr. Friedman's Second (1999) and Third (2005), as neo-Romantic works, you won't be wrong, at least most of the time. Both begin with vigorous, hard-driven movements in a tonal if purposefully brash style, and they sound surprisingly conventional until Mr. Friedman veers off toward unusual byways of rhythm or timbre.

One odd turn in the Second Quartet is a slow movement that sounds oddly medieval at first, then melts into a lush, Romantic section that gives way in turn to a choralelike chordal section. Near the end of the Third Quartet's second movement, the players are asked to slide into their notes, creating an odd, spacey effect in dense passages. Yet from within that weird, slippery texture, a set of solid, repeating, consonant chords emerge, bringing the movement to an unusually eerie, slow finale.

The Chiara String Quartet has made these works centerpieces of its live repertory in recent seasons, and the vital performances reflect the players devotion to Mr. Friedman's work. In an original touch, New Amsterdam has included two remixes by Matmos, an electronic music group, which took passages from the quartet recordings and reconfigured them imaginatively by weaving in beats, drones and computer timbres, and making them into virtually new works. --New York Times, Allan Kozinn, August 25, 2011

These compelling essays in high-energy eclecticism have become Jefferson Friedman's signature works, thanks largely to the Chiara String Quartet's passionate advocacy. Both quartets have an essentially neo-Romantic frame, but Mr. Friedman heads in unexpected directions, with hints of neo-medievalism, modernist effects and occasional rock influences. The disc includes remixes - imaginative reconfigurations, with added beats, drones and computer timbres - by the electronica band Matmos. --New York Times, 2011 Music Gift Guide, Allan Kozinn

Jefferson Friedman is friends and colleagues with indie-classical fixtures like Nico Muhly, but his music quite definitely does not resemble theirs. There is very little in the way of glassy, narcotic repetition, or the incremental building and exploring of a single mood that characterizes a lot of his colleagues' work. These pieces are defiantly old-fashioned in the best possible sense: They could be string quartets written in the 20s. But something ineffably 'off' in the progression of voices signifies that Friedman is writing now. His songful quartets earnestly probe small-scale modern human emotions: nagging doubt, creeping unease, simmering anger. Anyone with a love of Rachel's could quite easily find their way around in here. On the second half of the disc, Matmos step in to perform their demented-forensic-surgeon routine, ripping the pieces up by their nerves and tendons, a squirm-inducing but fascinating listening experience. --Pitchfork, By Jayson Greene , February, 2012

Listen to Samples and Buy MP3s

Songs from this album are available to purchase as MP3s. Click on "Buy MP3" or view the MP3 Album.

Song TitleArtist Time Price
  1. String Quartet No. 2: I. quater note = 120The Chiara String Quartet 5:35$0.89  Buy MP3 
  2. String Quartet No. 2: II. Free. quarter note = ca. 60The Chiara String Quartet 8:38Album Only
  3. String Quartet No. 2: III. eighth note = 180The Chiara String Quartet 7:20$0.89  Buy MP3 
  4. Matmos Remix No. 1, "A Bruit Secret Mix"Matmos 5:21$0.89  Buy MP3 
  5. String Quartet No. 3: I. IntroductionThe Chiara String Quartet 2:33$0.89  Buy MP3 
  6. String Quartet No. 3: II. ActThe Chiara String Quartet17:38Album Only
  7. String Quartet No. 3: III. Epilogue / LullabyThe Chiara String Quartet 6:02$0.89  Buy MP3 
  8. Matmos Remix No. 2, "Floor Plan Mix"Matmos10:32Album Only

Product Details

  • Conductor: --
  • Composer: Jefferson Friedman
  • Audio CD (April 26, 2011)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: New Amsterdam
  • ASIN: B004P96WN6
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #194,916 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Debra Jan Bibel TOP 500 REVIEWER on May 18, 2011
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
We are told that the composer envisions the movements of these quartets, particularly the first, as musical abstract expressionalism, emotional statements and impressions as if in a journal. The pieces are written for the performing Chiara String Quartet with its particular members in mind. In the String Quartet No. 2 of 1999, the first movement is fast and nervous, followed by a reflective and slow section of breathy phrases and cathedral harmonies. The final movement is deeply thoughtful with darker emotions leading to a rapid decisive ending. After the brief energetic Introduction to Friedman's third quartet, completed in 2005, Act, the second movement, honors the actual engagement of the 'cello' and the 'second violin'. It includes a lovely (pun intended) slow dance of the two instruments, but this is all too brief as the movement is then propelled forward rapidly and anxiously until it hits the brakes to a long, slow drone-like meditation and an agitated final siren oscillation. The last movement, Epilogue/Lullaby, is also in homage, this time for the 'first violin's' newborn child. This music comes as a relief, as it is a slow, quiet, and gentle pulsing and a bird-ascending lilt. The album contains two electronic remixes by the duo Matmos, friends of the composer. Such a format is very popular among the rave and dance crowd, but in this instance, it leaves me cold and utterly unimpressed. (I recall the electronic experimental music of the 1960s, which were far superior in conception and development.) The quartet plays well and is convincing. [I give the entire album a ***1/2 rating.]
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By DPost on May 22, 2011
Format: Audio CD
The name Jefferson Friedman was unknown to me until fairly recently but on the basis of this recording, it deserves widespread recognition. There are very few discs of contemporary music that I would pull out repeatedly to listen to, but this is one of them. The quartets are fluent, idiomatic, propulsive, driven, lyrical and tonally centered. They feature abundant imagination and technique. If Bela Bartok were living in Downtown New York today, one would not be suprised to hear something like this from him. The writing has an immediate, visceral appeal.
I'm not entirely sure why the Matmos "remixes" were included on this disc; they are stylistically and sonically different from the quartets, and in an ideal world I would have preferred another string quartet. Nevertheless, they are interesting, if not quite on the level of the quartets, and give another glimpse into Friedman's compositional process. Highly recommended.
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Format: Audio CD
Every so often an album comes out with the right combination of substance and edge that you know represents something new, arising, and here to stay. That perfect mix of experimentation and popular appeal has created watershed albums like Wu-Tang Clan's Enter the 36 Chambers, Nirvana's Nevermind, or M.I.A.'s Arular. It's been tough to find much in the way of contemporary classical music that possesses this substantive quality. The plethora of new material, the post-modern lack of meaning, and the predilection for technique or innovation for its own sake over musicality have made it difficult for the coherently new to emerge. In this way, New Amsterdam Records' release of the Chiara Quartet`s recording of Jefferson Friedman's Second and Third String Quartets stands as a breath of fresh air.

Friedman's String Quartets capture your attention right away with their in-your-face intensity, but also reel you in closer with intriguing sonorities and drawn-out melodic wanderings. There is a spatial quality to the music, with different elements coming to the foreground at times and then receding to the background, or a sense of motion in the music's drive and trajectory.

The rhythmic drive to the music is achieved through often constant nervous flutterings, detailed attention to accent patterns and articulations, and arriving at jagged grooves--the bows are really put to work. At its faster moments, the quartets are built from what could perhaps be best described as riffs. It's this sense of the vernacular in the present day that gives Friedman's music a real substance and potentially broader appeal. To make a historical analogy, in Mozart's time sentence and period phrase structures were all over popular European music.
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By M. Dixon on September 21, 2011
Format: Audio CD
A successful performance of string quartets will always require a composer with a fully developed voice in the genre, as well as a group of performers with the technical ability and the right artistic insight to bring the composer's vision to life. The best performances though, seem to feature a top notch quartet who has a deeper insight into the music than most others. A great performance can make complex music more immediately impactful, by seemingly tapping (directly?) into the core of the composer's emotion and vision of the music. I'm glad to report that the pairing of New York composer Jefferson Friedman's string quartets Nos. 2 and 3 with the Chiara String Quartet has produced a recording of new music that is among the top string quartet discs I've had the pleasure to hear. The addition of two "remixes" by the well regarded duo Matmos are natural additions to the CD and make this recording even more interesting, with a dramatic, hip, and fun change in musical style. The tone of the music seems to be pretty similar between the quartet compositions and the electronic compositions. This CD further proves that musical styles often merge together. There's no way to stop it and no reason to try.

With the string quartets, what we have here are two major works written by a young composer for a young ensemble. There seems to be a good deal of young energy in String Quartet No. 2 (live performance video link). Stylistically, we're definitely in tonal territory, but it's tough to try and pin it down any further than that. There are elements of minimalism, to be sure, as the composer sometimes enjoys extracting the greatest possible expression from a few sparse compositional elements, usually to a great effect.
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