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4.3 out of 5 stars
Performs Philip Glass
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67 of 79 people found the following review helpful
on June 11, 2001
Format: Audio CD
When it comes to contemporary music, KRONOS QUARTET stands for supreme excellence. In all of their recordings, KRONOS-members deliver absolutely immaculate performances. It's no wonder, then, that they are absolutely brilliant this time as well. Those who listen to their records expect perfection from them and are sure never to be disappointed.
This recording, however, is perhaps my least favorite among those I own at present (17). The reason for this lies not in KRONOS's carrying out of the music - which, as I said already, is flawless - but rather in the music itself, which I can't seem to appreciate as much as I myself would like to, given that I am a genuine KRONOS devotee and that I respect Philip Glass's contribution to the renewal of classical music very much.
The problem with Glass's string quartets seems to me to be that they are too often self-indulgent and self-satisfied in quality, as if composing them for Glass were a matter of proving that music can be done that way, that is by using very simple units and combining them in ever new designs. If that was his point, indeed, I don't feel he can be rebutted: undoubtedly music, very nice music, can be composed that way. Minimalism can work! But once that's out of the way, what's left in his quartets?
There are instances in which I think his music does "take off," so to speak, reaching unbelievable heights. But they are instances, and very brief ones I'm afraid. Most of the time, his quartets seem to me to be good examples of "artisanry" and craftsmanship rather than of art. Glass definitely knows how to compose solid pieces of music - his compositions are formally perfect, geometrical even, and completely self-standing. But where is the "divine spark"? If it's there, I can't seem to hear it.
Although in the CD inlay it says time and again that Glass's string quartets were intended as "independent music that could [also] stand alone as a concert suite" - that is, that they are not merely ancillary to on-stage performances - the truth is that, indeed, his quartets seem to be perfect ambience-music, meant to underscore non-strictly-musical on-stage productions. Glass often composes for such events, and I think he is probably very talented as far as that goes - he undeniably is a visionary, and knows how to find the perfect music for given visual settings and mises en scene.
Once I was watching a documentary on TV and my ear was caught by a beautiful melody... I stopped a minute to think and soon enough I recognized it to be Glass's Company, which I had listened to several time from Gidon Kremer's Silencio. It was superlative music, as long as there were pictures flashing on the screen.
So, my point is, that the music is good, even excellent but only if there something accompanying it. Otherwise, its repetitiveness and its intentional lack of development make it flat and even irksome at times. Unlike Gorecki's music - minimalist but intensely stirring - Glass's music is purely decorative.
I think those who enjoy Glass's other compositions will surely like the ones on this CD, as I'm also positive that KRONOS adepts will want to own this record. In addition to these groups of people, perhaps classical music neophytes might find it enlightening. But for everyone else, my suggestion is to try something else out before... Among the KRONOS QUARTET discography, Night Prayers (featuring Gubaidulina, Goliev and Kancheli among others) and Kronos Quartet Performs Alfred Schinttke are more interesting and noteworthy by far.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on June 21, 1999
Format: Audio CD
I have been listening to classical music (of my own accord) since i was fifteen; i am now twenty years of age, and i know of no other classical string quartet that plays with as much technical expertise, emotional sensitivity, and unity of expression than the Kronos Quartet. This is perhaps makes them a perfect marriage for Phillip Glass' string quartets... This compact disc, upon first listening has complexities and subtleties to the composition that appear as noise, but as you listen to it more, your ear will begin to understand the pieces. This is classical music, yes, but it is classical music for a new generation -music with a new voice, speaking to a new ear.
Thoroughly worth every penny you spend on it, this disc will either move you, challenge your musical sensiblities, or take you into a new vein of classical music.... Like this cd? I would suggest: Arvo Part's "Kanon Pokajanen," Kronos Quartet " Different Trains," or Rachel's "The Sea and the Bells."
(Given that Bach exists, I could not give this disc a five star rating)
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2001
Format: Audio CD
These quartets are, in my opinion, some of the most satisfying music Glass has composed. As a lover of many composers and styles, from Steely Dan to Bjork to Wayne Shorter to Villa Lobos, I must admit that the Glass String Quartet #5 is one of my favorite pieces of music. Rarely does "minimal" music deliver such emotion. Kronos Quartet once again produces a passionate, inimitable performance, and the sound quality is wonderful. This is a disc I rarely travel without.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on July 22, 2000
Format: Audio CDVerified Purchase
For someone who doesn't know much about the Kronos Quartet or Phillip Glass and who dabbles in classical music in general, I must say that this CD is one of my alltime favorite CDs. The music is intricate and haunting, I have listened to this CD more than 200 times and I don't seem to tire of it. I first heard one of the String Quartet No. 3 tracks on a Delta flight while on my way to Italy last year and couldn't get it out of my mind. This has been one of my most treasured purchases. If you like quartets & have a thing for ambient type music, you must buy this CD!!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon July 22, 2010
Format: Audio CD
It is for the Kronos Quartet rather than Phil Glass that I bought this CD. I usually don't warm up too much for the repetitive minimalism of Glass. It isn't the repetition I mind (like everybody I love Ravel's Bolero; and more seriously, there is some repetitive music that I do like. See my review of Ten Holt's Complete Music for Multiple Pianos), it is the predictable and saccharine harmonies, the endless scales and trite harmonic progressions. I wonder if there is something to minimalism that imposes those gooey harmonies, or if it is just laziness and pandering to a certain audience's tastes.

But I've enjoyed some of the collaborations of the Kronos Quartet with some composers more or less associated with minimalism. I consider the quartets composed for them by Terry Riley (Cadenza on the Night Plain,Salome Dances) and Kevin Volans (Kevin Volans: Hunting: Gathering (String Quartet No. 2) (1987) - Kronos Quartet,String Quartets 2 & 3) to be among the masterpieces in the genre composed in, say, the last 30 years of the 20th Century. There are some elements of repetition in these works, but they aren't really repetitive in the way the music of Glass usually is, or like Riley's ground-breaking "In C". They are more indebted to World-music, but a World-music entirely metabolized by each composer and transformed into compositions that are uniquely personal, and highly appealing.

So I picked up that Glass for a try. The disc features his Quartets No. 2 to 5. They were composed in relatively close succession, from 1983 to 1991. I've checked on Glass' Website: so far, he's stopped at 5 (the liner notes mention three discarded youthful essays, which sums up to 8 quartets). The liner notes also refer to the 1st numbered quartet, composed in 1966 as Glass was just finishing his studies with Nadia Boulanger, and apparently one of his first essays at repetitive minimalism. Too bad Kronos didn't choose to record it, since they premiered it (as late as 1986; it must have been gathering dust in Glass' bottom drawer), and since they had already recorded the 2nd Quartet, "Company", on Kronos Quartet: Sculthorpe, Sallinen, Glass, Nuncarrow, Hendrix.

Anyway, the quartets are pure Glass (although the slow movement of the 4th Quartet stands out, see anon), without the fireworks of colors the he elicits from his Philip Glass Ensemble, but with the motoric and obsessive energy, the typical jumps of dynamic levels and, in the moments of repose, the sentimental harmonies that evoke a repetitive Dvorak or Brahms. The high-strung lyricism of the 5th Quartet's third movement - particularly effective - even brought Janacek to mind.

"Company"/SQ No.2 was written as incidental music to a Becket Play and its four short movements are mostly meditative and hushed. Quartet No. 3 also began as Gebrauchsmusik - music for a use: here, part of the soundtrack for Paul Schrader's film on Mishima; it is on that occastion that's Kronos initiated their collaboration with Glass, premiering quartets 1, 2 and 3 and having 5 commissioned for them.

The 4th Quartet, "Buczak", was written in the memory of the artist Brian Buczak, who had died of AIDS in 1988. Not surprisingly, its repetitions develop a more somber and sorrowful mood than your run-of-the-mill Glass. The second movement is not even all that repetitive, but it is beautifully lyrical, mournful in a hushed and sensuous way, bringing to mind the quartets of Szymanowski and Ravel - so unexpected from Glass, it immediately caught back my attention (which, I confess, subjected to so much repetition - even Glass' subtly evolving one - had been prone to drifting).

There is 68 minutes of repetition repetition repetition repetition for string quartet on this well-filled CD, and hearing it all in one intake may be too much of the same sweet thing. But taking it in smaller - shall I dare? - glasses, one or two quart(et)s at a time, has procured enjoyment.

I see that competing recordings have been cropping up like greenery after the shower in the desert: the Carducci Quartet recorded 1 to 4 on Naxos (Glass: String Quartets, Nos. 1-4), the Smith Quartet did the complete series (but on two discs, Philip Glass: Complete String Quartets), and you can find on the German sister company another complete set squeezed on a single disc, by an ensemble that goes by the amusing name of "Paul Klee 4tet", ASIN B002X66S3W. There is also, refered to on Glass' website and listed by the same provider, a recording of Quartets 4 & 5 (paired with Michael Nyman's 3rd), ASIN B00004D3I7. I'd go for them for the sheer sake of completedness, but then, reason commands that I stop the repetition here.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 2001
Format: Audio CD
I purchased this CD several years ago as an introduction to both Glass and the Kronos Quartet. It is the most worn CD on my shelf. Intensely colorful themes and fugue-like rhythms. A perfect musical sense of mathematical structure that is both simple and very complex, but sparing no emotional intensity. The very personal and elegant atmosphere of a string quartet, easily one of the best. If you like any of these, this could be one of the CDs you take with you to a desert island.
Although these are separate pieces, the overall CD is a perfect whole. One of the few I know of that you won't need to do the skips to find what you're looking for. Also one of the few that is just as effective being listened to completely for its own sake or when you need something in the background as good brain food for creative direction.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 13, 2010
Format: Audio CD
It's something of a mystery to me why Glass' chamber music is not better known. Maybe that's something for him to ponder, or his publicist/agent. The composer turned 73 in January. How time flies ...

The 5th quartet is a masterpiece, pure and simple. The other quartets are also wonderful. I remember playing this music over and over while reading or working and never tiring of it. Mozart has the same effect on me. So, there you have it. (Ignore the negative reviews.)
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14 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on May 3, 2005
Format: Audio CD
To quote Sherri "Altovoice" : "I can't believe anyone would rate this noise higher than a 1. If you like the sound of chainsaws needing servicing, then perhaps you'll enjoy this CD. My husband called it "sounds to fight with your spouse to".

All I can say is that she must have gotten a Slipknot CD in the Kronos case by mistake!

Yes, 'minimalism' isn't for everyone, and I would not recommend Glass to everyone, but for those who like both Kronos & Glass' work, this is a wonderful recording. Glass has built a career on repitition, taking a short melody or rhythm, and working it over and over, creating a trance-like music. There is immense beauty in this recording. The sound is bright & clear, with the performance spirited. This is perhaps both my favorite Kronos & Glass recording. Highly recommended. © 2005 Michael Bettine
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on December 31, 2003
Format: Audio CD
The string quartets are Philip Glass at his most intimate and emotional. They also represent Glass's most traditional, "classical" work. Though some of the themes and motifs of the quartets (most obviously in Company and Buzcak) are familiar, the fifth quartet is a searing work: vibrant and colorful; among the most beautiful pieces Glass has ever written.
In fact, at times in the fifth quartet, specifically the fifth and final movement, it's hard to believe that there are only four instruments being played. The music is loud, powerful and bursting with soul.
Though the quartets were written in the mid-eighties and (very) early nineties, they most resemble Glass's new form: represented by the first four of his six symphonies. Around the time of these quartets, Glass wrote his Violin Concerto. But the violin concerto is too dramatically obvious and for the most part a wonderful sounding failure. Glass may have realized this and restrained himself on these works.
Needless to say, Kronos plays these pieces perfectly, bringing their lush sounds to the already warm compositions. All in all, this is an amazing album, and a must for any classical fan.
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11 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Format: Audio CD
The early Glass music with saxophones and Farfisa Organs was powerful stuff. It was when his ideas were taking shape, on the slow transformations of timbre, where mists of harmonies slowly change over a repetitive pulse. When these ideas were introduced into theatre and opera they captured a kind of primitiviness with the help of Robert Wilson who made Einstein on the Beach for instance what it was. Since that time roughly 1976,all Glass has fallen into a vacuous time warp where what began as interesting ways of making one-dimensional surface music, through process and timbral transformations simply became market conconctions for breeze easy listening. But today if you venture to listen to Glass, the string quartet,I suppose provides a purist genre in which to survey and examine some of these theories now in a truncated and diluted state. All these quartets sound the same to me,like one monolith colossus quartet, and that's great for the Kronos always likes to blend into each other as much as possible,there are no personalities emerging here as you might find in the variegated and thornier Arditti Quartet.Although Glass was shrewd enough to realize that he works best within the safe confines of a programmatic agenda,he doesn't know how to distinguish,nor create unique images that feeds and nourishes his materials. Creativily it is like he can only use one brush to paint a multitude of programmatic images.One brush that got bigger as time went on,losing nuance and detail.
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