A special eight-page section focusing on recent recordings from the US and Canada

Beethoven . Frucht . Janáček ‘Shades of Romani Folklore’ Beethoven String Quartet No 4, Op 18 No 4 Frucht Rhapsody Janáček String Quartet No 2, ‘Intimate Letters’ Ulysses Quartet Navona (NV6567 • 60’)

With so many superb young string quartets active on the music scene,

it is heartening to realise that the genre can look to the future with optimism. Take the Ulysses Quartet, who make an auspicious recording debut with this album. The musicians play works of three centuries with stylistic flexibility and technical prowess. The performances reflect the ensemble’s deep immersion in the rhetoric of each score as they catapult the music from the page with a blend of thrusting energy and nuanced detail.

The disc’s title, ‘Shades of Romani Folklore’, should be considered only as a starting point. While all three pieces contain elements (shades, as it were) of Romani culture, the composers go beyond local influences to create distinctive sound worlds and narratives. The most recent work, Paul Frucht’s Rhapsody, was inspired by Ravel’s Tzigane, whose alluring flourishes originally for violin and piano (then piano and orchestra) are transformed here for string quartet in contemporary contexts. Frucht achieves an individual voice by sending each instrument into fervent orbit and combining them for passages of poignant utterance and communal ecstasy.

Not far removed from this ardent galaxy is Janá∂ek’s String Quartet No 2, Intimate Letters, which evokes the composer’s (platonic) relationship with a woman 38 years younger. The viola, representing the woman, is featured prominently in yearning phrases, eloquently shaped by Colin Brookes, that reach out to the other instruments in fits of amorous frenzy, when not in isolation. The Ulysses players tame

the score’s metrical intricacies while focusing urgently on the expressive arcs, with their mooring in the composer’s idiosyncratic Moravian speech melodies. Hearing Janá∂ek’s confessional writing shaped with such vibrant coloration might be akin to eavesdropping if the artistry weren’t so captivating.

The disc opens with the oldest piece, Beethoven’s String Quartet in C minor, Op 18 No 4, whose finale hints of Romani character. But what seizes the ears is the way the Ulysses take an oftplayed score and instil every moment with fresh motivation. The performance is gleaming and transparent, a signal that the ensemble promise to bring as much sophistication, imagination and vitality to Beethoven’s other quartets as they will to music by a panoply of composers from long ago and today. Donald Rosenberg

Cabaniss ‘Four Elements – String Quartets, Vol 1’ String Quartets – No 1, ‘Hidden Wounds’; No 2, ‘Three Dance Grooves’; No 5, ‘Four Elements’ Charleston Symphony String Quartet Navona (NV6580 • 48’)

Collaborative undertakings for the stage comprise a significant portion

of Thomas Cabaniss’s oeuvre – not only operas but dance works and incidental theatre music as well. Yet this appealing collection shows him to be equally at home with the intimacy of the string quartet. Three of his six contributions to the genre are included here, spanning from the start of his career as a composer to the height of the covid pandemic; a sequel featuring the same ensemble in the other three quartets (Nos 3, 4 and 6) is planned for release in the near future.

Born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina, Cabaniss has been based in New York since the 1990s, pursuing parallel careers teaching at the Juilliard School and directing music education programmes. It was through his work

curating music outreach concerts that he began collaborating with musicians from his former home town and embarked on a project of recording his complete quartets with principal string players from the Charleston Symphony Orchestra.

The ensemble, who gave the world premiere of the titular Four Elements (Quartet No 5) in 2023, make their debut recording with this release. The musicians’ warmth and evident enthusiasm for Cabaniss’s music are enhanced by the Dolby Atmos surround-sound production by Brad Michel, recipient of Gramophone’s inaugural award for Spatial Audio (for Stile Antico’s Josquin album ‘The Golden Renaissance’ – Decca, 2/21).

These quartets present a cross section of Cabaniss’s interests as a composer, drawing on music he originally wrote for a variety of stage projects (such as an opera about Denmark Vesey, who in 1822 attempted to lead a rebellion of enslaved people in Charleston). Shying away from formal innovation or extended technique, he uses a generally conservative harmonic language to convey his priorities of cantabile expression, vivid pulse and a dramatically involving exchange of ideas.

String Quartet No 1 (1990), the work of an ardent 27-year-old, reflects the composer’s responses to poet Wendell Berry’s Hidden Wounds, an essay about racism. Janá∂ek’s quartets provide the primary musical impetus, evident in the frequent changes of metre and tempo as well as the use of speech-derived melody (the Adagio, the most affecting part of the work, alludes to Louis Malle’s Au revoir les enfants).

The more loosely organised String Quartet No 2, Three Dance Grooves from 2012, explores three examples of how a piece of music comes to life through what Cabaniss calls ‘a groove – a governing pulse, something musicians lock into in order to “stay in the pocket” as they perform’. Most compelling is Four Elements, prompted by the composer’s loss of a close friend and collaborator, the acclaimed opera director Graham Vick, who died from complications of covid in 2021. Cabaniss composes at times