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R. Murray Schafer: Quatuors à cordes 8-12

The Wire
1 août 2013

Montreal based Quatuor Molinari's relationship with the Canadian composer, writer and environmentalist R. Murray Schafer, 80 this year, dates back to 1997 when, as a newborn string quartet, they decided to play and record his existing six quartets. Chemistry sparked, and largely thanks to the Molinaris, Schafer has now written a dozen quartets, his 12th completed last year. And what a peculiar, intoxicating web these pieces spin. The ninth quartet invokes bleak melancholy using tonal harmony, figurations retreading some very habitual gestural paths, which are overlaid against children's voices on tape. This counterpoint of tonality and children does not sound promising; but the chill of the tenth quartet, subtitled Winter Birds, with harmonics and microtonal inflections and melodic cells rattling like shivery teeth, helps solve the mystery of Schafer's music. These pieces are like images, screengrabs, of sound. The material might be largely familiar; Schafer soots with a wide-angled zoom, though, forcing us to refocus and rethink our emotional response to what we hear.
Philip Clark - The Wire 

Musical Toronto
11 juin 2013

An excellent new ATMA-released 2-CD recording of Schafer’s five most recent string quartets — Nos. 8 through 12 — by Montreal’s Molinari Quartet is so well done that it encourages the listener to play each piece over and over again to savour the composer’s craft and the musicians’ skill in rendering it as fine music. (Note that the recording of String Quartet No. 8 is from 2002; the others are new.)
Schafer tends to request traditional bowing and plucking, with the occasional tap of the strings from the wooden side of the bow, or a rap of knuckles on an instrument’s body.
Quartet No. 9 — my favourite — includes a recorded treble voice singing a five-note theme born in Quartet No. 8. It also includes the sounds of children laughing and playing, as if from a schoolyard at recess.
This brings up one more thing that makes this music interesting — compelling, even: the coexistence of light and dark.
If you’ve never done this before, on your next walk through a pre-Modern gallery at the AGO look at the landscapes and still lifes and portraits and note how some painters build their work on light. Others rely on shadow.
The great composers do the same.
Is Schafer about light or is he about the darker recesses of existence? The answer is most ambiguous in Quartet No. 9, but that ambiguity (or duality) informs all of the music on the disc, and the Molinaris navigate it with such elegance.
John Terauds -  
Musical Toronto

The WholeNote
2 juin 2013

``Kudos to the Molinari, past and present, for their documentation of and dedication to this outstanding and unique cycle from one of Canada’s foremost composers. ``
David Olds - The WholeNote

 

BBC Music Magazine
2 juin 2013

Performance ★★★★
Recording ★★★★★
The Canadian acoustic ecologist an author of Soundscape, R. Murray Schafer (b1933), is also a composer of a substantial and distinguished oeuvre. In this CD set of five of his 12 Quartets (Nos 8-12), the Montreal-based Molinari Quartet respond to his exquisitely sensitised, idiomatic string writing with rich and engaging performances.
As one would expect from someone fascinated by soundscape, Schafer's music offers a depth of field and textural scope that reaches far beyond the confines of the string quartet. In No. 9 the haunting voice of a child singing a wordless melody is interwoven with intricate string parts, as are the sounds of children laughing and playing, lending it a poignancy that is never sentimental, particularly in the dangerous roar of a manic playfground.Debussy lurks behind No. 10, Winter Birds, its delicate, shadowy atmosphere riven with the cries of birds and coyote yowls. One can feel the cold in Schafer's static, white harmonies, hoarse textures and shivering harmonics - there's no need for the narrated description. No. 11 is an intense, almost claustrophobic statement, with obsessive waves of colliding lines, and sharply distinctive movements. The strings' eerie wailing is echoed in the finale by the alien breath of an only-just-perceptible Aeolian harp.
Quartet No. 12 is perhaps the most enigmatic of all, marked by keening, sliding chords, under voluptuous, looping violin solos. Originally conceived as if several quartets were being performed i different rooms, it does feel as if doors are opening rapidly on multiple events, but its rondo-like structure brings coherence. The ingenious, Chinese-inflected No. 8 (a reissue from 2003) is the most vivaciously characterised work in the set.
Helen Wallace - BBC Music