ECM New Series releases Parker Quartet and Kim Kashkashian's new Kurtág and Dvořák album
Parker Quartet Daniel Chong, violin; Ken Hamao, violin; Jessica Bodner, viola; Kee-Hyun Kim, violoncello
Kim Kashkashian, viola
Release Date: October 22, 2021
At first glance, the pairing of the two composers chosen by the Parker Quartet and violist Kim Kashkashian for their recording on ECM New Series may appear unusual. However, György Kurtág and Antonín Dvořák have more in common than a fleeting glimpse at their oeuvre – an extremely narrow, concentrated catalogue of works in the one case and a multifaceted life's work that lavishly encompasses all musical genres in the other – would suggest.
There is no question that György Kurtág and Antonín Dvořák are creators of eminent chamber music works. Dvořák wrote thirty-one works in this field (not counting the two serenades and some lost pieces), the most generously represented genre being the string quartet with fourteen works, in addition to the three quintets, one sextet, two tercets and others, all intended for pure string ensembles. Even greater still is the proportion of chamber music works in Kurtág's oeuvre, although his orchestral works were often written for smaller ensembles and reduced instrumentations. Ultimately, the intimate, austere quality of chamber music is more in keeping with Kurtág's artistic nature, who thinks less in terms of large formats, but rather developed his own unique style with sound material reduced to microscopic cells.
For the present recording, their first for ECM, the Parker Quartet combines the Six moments musicaux op. 44 and the Officium breve op. 28 – Kurtág's String Quartets Nos. 3 and 4, if you will – with Dvořák's String Quintet No. 3 in E-flat Major op. 97, for which Kim Kashkashian has taken over the second viola part. And here, within the musical facture, the compositional means, in the sound complexion, the paths of these two composers, who represent two musical eras, diverge.
As with basically all the works of György Kurtág, who scrupulously concentrates and condenses the means and tools of composition, these two string quartets are made up of the smallest musical gestures, timbres and fragments – all of convincing consistency. They are replete with allusions to persons close to him, works and events of the past and present, from which the composer's aesthetic points of orientation can be derived: Beethoven, Olivier Messiaen, the pianist and piano teacher György Sebök, the Hungarian poet Endre Ady, Samuel Beckett, Leoš Janáček. And Anton Webern, of course, with his minimum of notes and maximum of expression as a consequence.
These examples of sonic artistry, concentrated around the essential, frame Antonín Dvořák's late String Quintet in E-flat major, op. 97. Like the other works written at the same time, during the composer’s "American period", its attractiveness hails from the natural, almost blossoming melodicism as well as the concise rhythm. Brahms, the Czech composer’s mentor of many years, took note of Dvořák’s unpretentious sense for melody, and his apparently never-ending power of invention.
The Parker Quartet quickly established itself as one of the leading ensembles on the international stage after its founding in Boston in 2002. The four alumni of the New England Conservatory of Music and the Julliard School have been artists in residence at Harvard University for over six years and have performed at renowned venues such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Wigmore Hall in London, Concertgebouw Amsterdam and the Vienna Musikverein. In the course of its existence, the quartet has been honoured with various awards, including the Grand Prix and the Mozart Prize of the Bordeaux International String Quartet Competition. Alongside the Cleveland Quartet and Rainer Schmidt (Hagen Quartet), Kim Kashkashian and György Kurtág are among the most important mentors of the ensemble, whose main focus lies on the interpretation of contemporary works, many of which are written in close collaboration with the respective composers. Such projects include the 2011 recording of works by György Ligeti, which won the Grammy award for Best Chamber Music Performance.
Kim Kashkashian is one of the most distinguished viola players and sought-after teachers in the world today. Her teaching career has taken her to the University of Indiana in Bloomington, the Mannes School of Music in New York, the conservatories in Freiburg and Berlin and, since 2000, the New England Conservatory in Boston. Collaborations with numerous composers have added significant works to the narrow repertoire for the viola and have received their world premiere through Kim Kashkashian. Many of Kim Kashkashian's recordings, released on ECM New Series for the past thirty years, have won international awards, including a Grammy in 2013 for her recording Music for Viola with works by György Ligeti and György Kurtág. In the same year, she was honoured with the George Peabody Medal for her outstanding contribution to music in America.
CD booklet includes liner notes by Paul Griffiths in English and German