This is the debut album for the Telegraph Quartet who are based in the San Francisco Bay Area. They have chosen some curious works from the quartet repertoire to represent this nascent ensemble, Anton Webern’s Op. 5 Fünf Satze (1909, Benjamin Britten’s Three Divertimenti (1936), and Leon Kirchner’s String Quartet No. 1 (1949).
Webern is, of course well known, but relatively seldom played. His pithy, brief, pieces belie a complexity which may delight musicologists but his music, for all of it’s craft, is never going to be a crowd pleaser like Haydn or Beethoven. It appears that The Telegraph folks are putting together a carefully selected intro to their work. They execute these little masterpieces with care and manage to squeeze the expression out so that the audience can begin to appreciate it.
The Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) Divertimenti were unfamiliar to this listener and, doubtless, will be a pleasant surprise to many. Britten wrote three string quartets and a few other miscellaneous pieces for quartet. It is a bit surprising that these little Britten gems have gone with so little notice before now. These are three brief (though not as brief as the Webern) but engaging little compositions that clearly deserve at least an occasional performance. The Telegraphs handle these with a powerful almost romantic interpretation. It’s hard to say not ever having heard any other performance but these are engaging pieces.
Leaving the best for last we get to hear music by Leon Kirchner (1919-2009). This Pulitzer Prize winning composer (he won for his Third String Quartet from 1967). Kirchner wrote 4 quartets in total which vary widely in style. They date from 1949, 1958, 1966, and 2006 (which remains unrecorded…hint, hint). Kirchner wrote in pretty much all genres and even worked with electronics. It is time for a new reckoning of his work.
The first quartet is the least heard of the lot and is of a sort of romantic quality. It is a passionate composition that is influenced by a variety of styles but it precedes his 12 tone compositions. This quartet seems to have an affinity for romantic gesture and singing melodies and listeners will doubtless want to hear this work multiple times.
Some may recall a Columbia album from the 1970s that recorded Kirchner Schoenbergian second quartet as a “B side” to an album which contained Kirchner’s drama, Lily, based on Saul Bellow’s “The Rain King”. That disc was almost a Kirchner sampler displaying two major aspects of the composer’s output.
All the works here are bound to please a concert audience and this little collection of works dating a forty year period from 1909 to 1949 are excellent vehicles for this ensemble which sports a lush sound and a feeling for the proper shaping of melodies.
The Telegraph Quartet consists of Joseph Maile and Eric Chin (who apparently share the role of first violin with the other taking the second violin), Pei-Ling Lin, viola, and Jeremiah Shaw cello. It’s difficult to say how this new quartet will fare but this album suggests that they are already on their way musically and, judging from their choice of repertoire, they are likely to unearth (and probably commission) unheard delights of the quartet repertoire. Well done!