Nothing in the title of this album gives you an idea of the hour of music you’ll encounter when you start listening, but this fascinating disc by the New York string quartet Brooklyn Rider combines three disparate works into a coherent program.
Starting with Culai, by Ljova, a Gypsy musician, the quartet takes listeners on a trip to a distant yet familiar sound world. We can all recognize the sounds of gypsy music, and this five-movement string quartet goes through all of the phases of a life. Culai was the nickname of a gypsy violinist Nicolae Neacşu, and this work is the story of his life. Using all of the resources of the string quartet – solid ensemble playing, emotional solo violin, and some sweet phrases where the two violins play in unison – this shows that “classical” music comes in many form.
The next work on this disc is Béla Bartók’s brilliant String Quartet No. 2. Bartók took many of his themes from folk music, and the rhythms of the second movement of this work may even have been influenced by his discovery of Nigerian music during a visit to that country in 1913. Written between 1915 and 1917, this work is full of the sadness of the First World War, in Bartók’s familiar, yet not always easy to penetrate, musical idiom. Brooklyn Rider play this work beautifully, and its position following Culia links this quartet with the folk roots that Bartók so often used in his music.
The third and final work is Colin Jacobsen’s Three Miniatures for String Quartet. These three pieces are influenced by Persian miniature paintings, and feature tonal ideas that follow from Bartók. The first piece is dense and rhythmic, with Middle Eastern colors. The second sounds more like an arabesque. And the third features melodies that could be Gypsy music, taking this disc full circle.
Brooklyn Rider’s judiciously selected program works very well, providing an hour of exhilarating music that takes you on a musical voyage across cultures.