Scene Magazine Prints Some Insightful Observations

Composing AmericaScene Magazine Review

Chris Morgan has offered an insightful summary of some elements of the Composing America release: “… beyond its representational government, free markets and property laws, America is culturally unique –  a so-called ‘melting pot’ that blends the disparate visions of dozens of nations into a common mixture. It’s the same mixture that pervades this new release from Bridge Records…”

Read the Scene Magazine Review

Gramophone Magazine Prints Rave Review

Gramophone Magazine

Composing AmericaGramophone Magazine Review

Laurence Vittes of Gramophone Magazine has written an extraordinarily complementary review of Lark’s latest release. He describes the album as: “Impressive… Breathtaking and Brilliant…” and concludes by saying: “The recording’s three-dimensional reality, captured at SUNY Purchase’s Performing Arts Center, sounds so magnificent that the whole musical experience actually matches the florid imagination of Andrew Waggoner’s booklet-note.

Read the Full Gramophone Magazine Review

Composing America Featured on BBC Radio 3

Live from the Southbank Centre, Lark’s Composing America was reviewed and recommended by host Andrew McGregor.

This review is no longer Available to Listen to On Demand. However, we hope to repost it soon. If you would like to listen, please check back.

Composing America – International Record Review

The International Record Review

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“… a fascinating anthology, and an exceptionally well-played one.”

“It’s hard to imagine a more committed and carefully prepared performance…”

“with good notes and a well-balanced recording this is a disc that should appeal to any collectors of America repertoire.”

Nigel Simeone

Composing America – Review

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The intent of this release, it seems, is to provide an updated version of the American chamber music survey that started with Ives and ran up to perhaps Samuel Barber, keeping the focus on vernacular/popular content and even deepening it by showing how it has woven itself into many types of compositions. The Lark Quartet rejects the division of American music into vernacular-influenced and European-oriented, showing that vernacular instincts have penetrated the works of composers not generally associated with that tradition, and it offers a clever demonstration of the group’s idea. Each of the first three works on the program somehow involves that most American of musical devices, the blue note. In the first of the five “pages” from John Adams’ John’s Book of Alleged Dances, the blue note appears in a form very close to that in Gershwin’s Three Preludes for piano, creating an interesting absent touchstone. William Bolcom’s wonderful song for baritone and quartet Billy in the Darbies, a forerunner of the composer’s Billy Budd opera, and Aaron Copland’s early Two Pieces for string quartet both pull further against the blues tonality in different directions, and the Lark Quartet delivers an unusually good realization of the young Copland, soaking up the scene in Paris and finding that the French composers he admired were themselves interested in American jazz. Finally, with the modern Piano Quintet of Paul Moravec, commissioned by the Lark Quartet itself, discarding the blue note but not the rhythmic aspects of popular music; in the words of annotator Andrew Waggoner, “the connection [to vernacular music] is there. It is just less apparent, less at the surface and more in the make-up of the musical elements themselves.” A novel take, performed with attractive precision, on the age-old question “what is American music?”

James Manheim

Composing America – Audiophile Audition Review

Audiophile Audition

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Three of the four works by the composers in this enterprising disc from the Lark Quartet have their roots in American culture. As program annotator Andrew Waggoner notes, the works by Adams, Bolcom and Copland have their inspiration from “the music of the dancehall, the juke-joint, the jazz club, AM radio, the songs of laborers, of the marginalized, the dispossessed and (perhaps most importantly for John Adams) the young.”

John Adams Book of Alleged Dances (1994) combines the “wit of Mark Twain” with schmaltzy tunes and playful titles. The five excerpts from this work for string quartetand percussion combine the funky sounds of a Harry Partch composition with the jazzy ambiance of a blues nightclub. “Habenera” merges a country fiddle-like meditation with a Latin beat. “Dogjam” is the violins’ jerky journey over the prepared piano’s rocky terrain. You get the idea: you’ll encounter the unexpected and smile often in this creative musical fantasy that only could come from an American.

William Bolcom’s 2009 Billy in the Darbies is a musical portrait of Melville’s story of Billy Budd (which Britten made into a powerful opera) and his lament of being put in handcuffs (darbies) and “waiting to be tied up and thrown overboard for a crime he did not commit.” The bluesy repeated figure and Stephen Salter’s haunting baritone voice expresses the longing and resignation of Billy’s plight. Aaron Copland’s Two Pieces for String Quartet (1923) is a transitional work from his modern early period to his populist period of American classics. The first movement is poignantly beautiful; the second a lively and warm tribute written for a concert in honor of composer Gabriel Faure.

Paul Moravec (b.1957) is a prolific American composer whose music has won the Pulitzer Prize (for Tempest Fantasy), a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship, and a Composer Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, among others. He comments, “As a composer, I try always to make beautiful things…the overall harmonic context of my music derives from the tonal tradition,…essentially, Monteverdi to the Beatles and beyond.” His Piano Quintet is characterized by quickly changing moods, variations in rhythms and tempos, and lyrical passages interspersed with dramatic and dissonant sections. The darkly mysterious quickly becomes exciting and tense. The contemplative slow movement is tartly beautiful and ghostly eerie, always transforming. A beautiful cello melody precedes dissonant wandering strings in the central section of the final movement. It’s sandwiched between two sections of fast-paced passages led by the piano. This is a work that reveals and satisfies more upon repeated hearings. Jeremy Denk and the Lark Quartet navigate its complexities with verve and imagination. This is a disc that reflects the wide range of American music in the 20th and 21st century.

Robert Moon

Jennifer Higdon-An Exaltation of Lark CD Reviews

Music Web
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Jennifer Higdon’s orchestral music hasn’t exactly impressed me in the past; her very widely played blue cathedral is gimmicky. The chamber music here makes a better impression, and I’m finally a fan.

An Exaltation of Larks, for string quartet, was surprisingly enough not written for the Lark Quartet: the names are a coincidence. It’s a very outdoorsy, optimistic, American-feeling work, with open harmonies, virtuosic writing for everybody, snatches of melody and moments of great beauty. There are also a few moments, especially around the eight- and nine-minute marks, when I feel that Higdon is stretching her material rather thin. Luckily the last five minutes pick up the pace excellently or I’d have been glancing at my watch.

Next up are Scenes from the Poet’s Dreams, for string quartet and a pianist limited to the left hand alone. This was written for the Lark Quartet and Gary Graffman, who has been playing left-hand repertoire since an injury in 1979. The fast movements here show that Higdon has a real talent for energy, vibrancy and concertante dialogue between piano and strings. The joyous, playful first movement has me thinking of the Prokofiev concertos. The slow movements are to my mind much more successful, more evocative, than the meditative passages in the string quartet. Some of the most “modern” dissonant music on the CD is here: there’s a movement depicting a swarm of insects that’s as frenetic and jarring as an actual swarm of insects.

We conclude with Light Refracted, definitely the worst title but probably the best Higdon I’ve ever heard. It opens with an extended slow movement, begun by the clarinet alone and soon involving all the instruments in a passage of utmost gentleness and calm. This is as evocative and lyrical as Copland. That long, gorgeous opening is contrasted with a perpetuum mobile finale which was actually commissioned separately by performers who wanted an energetic chaser for the original piece.

The Lark Quartet is a string quartet with an incredible track record of promoting new music. They commissioned and premiered the two superb string quartets by Aaron Jay Kernis, and have also commissioned music by William Bolcom, Paul Moravec and Peter Schickele. Their playing is exemplary, as is Gary Graffman’s one-handed contribution to the Scenes. For Light Refracted we have guest appearances from clarinetist Todd Palmer, called upon to carry a lot of the load, and able partner Blair McMillen, a pianist who specializes in Cage. The sound quality is excellent and the booklet notes are by Jennifer Higdon herself.

Brian Reinhart

The Lark Quartet: HIGDON An Exaltation of Larks. BRIDGE

FANFARE MAGAZINE:The Lark Quartet: HIGDON An Exaltation of Larks. BRIDGE
Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Jennifer Higdon (b. 1962) won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in composition for her violin concerto. Though born in Brooklyn, she spent her first 10 years in Atlanta before moving to Tennessee. According to her bio on Wikipedia, she studied at Bowling Green State University, majoring in flute performance. “Of playing in the university orchestra, she has said, ‘Because I came to classical music very differently than most people, the newer stuff had more appeal for me than the older.’” She also earned an artist’s diploma from the Curtis Institute of Music, where she studied with David Loeb and taught virtuoso violinist Hilary Hahn. The liner notes for this disc also indicate that she was recently commissioned to compose an opera on Charles Frazier’s book Cold Mountain for the Santa Fe and Philadelphia opera companies. So now you’re up to speed on her, as I am.

I like to refer to music of this genre, which applies to many American composers in their 50s and younger, as “American ‘hip,’” meaning that it is primarily tonal or modal with alternating lyrical and fast, driving passages with tremendous motor rhythms. But perhaps because so much of the music on this disc is written for strings, it has—like the alto sax sonata on the Albany disc—a more lyrical quality, with a consistently “singing” tone and feel about it. It may seem a bit funny that An Exaltation of Larks is played by the Lark Quartet, especially since it was actually commissioned for the Tokyo String Quartet, but these four young women give a passionate, committed performance, and although the Tokyo Quartet has its own special sound quality, something that is almost impossible to replicate, I couldn’t imagine the energy or musical style being any better represented than it is here.

An Exaltation of Larks is, like a flock of the birds themselves, chattering, noisy and happy. Higdon does an especially good job within its 15-minute time frame of developing and adding material. It is truly happy music, and that is not a negative statement as to its musical worth; on the contrary, I found myself continually engaged in analyzing the music as I was listening. To a certain extent, Higdon has also managed to create, here, a continuous musical narrative, one might almost say a tone poem for string quartet. I can well imagine this work also being scored for a small (say, 24-piece) string orchestra and being equally effective. As a chamber work, despite its well-conceived structure, you could not really call it a “meaty” piece, but it would make a splendid opening work in a program that also contained Bartók or Prokofiev quartets.

With Scenes from the Poet’s Dreams, the Lark Quartet—for whom the piece was written and who premiered it, along with pianist Graffman—shows their versatility in playing very different styles. Each piece within this five-part cycle has its own mood and palette of colors, and they adjust to each one superbly. I never thought, when I was growing up and first heard his recordings, that I’d ever get the chance someday to review a disc by Gary Graffman, but he was always one of my favorite pianists and, despite a long and distinguished career, I never felt that he reached the heights that his talent deserved. Here he is given a left-hand-only part, which he fills with his customary sensitivity and lyricism. He has not lost one whit of the magic he displayed on those old Columbia recordings so long ago. Indeed, the lightness and sparkle of his playing belie his age at this time, which was 83! The most energetic and, you might say, least “poetic” movement in this cycle is the third, “I Saw the Electric Insects Coming.” It represents, in Higdon’s words, “the kind of nightmare that no one likes to have,” and here both Graffman and the quartet flit about with a feeling of rough, somewhat edgy energy, while the fourth, “In the Blue Fields They Sing,” practically floats motionless above our heads. In this movement, the music Graffman plays belies his use of the left-hand-only (a device used throughout the cycle) as there are several bass notes upon which the harmony and rhythms act as a pivot. The last movement, “The Fast Dancers Dance Faster,” is also quite energetic but not as edgy or disturbing as the third.

The last piece on this disc, Light Refracted, was originally commissioned by Music at Angel Fire, but is played here by three of the Lark Quartet members (omitting the second violin) along with clarinetist Todd Palmer and pianist Blair McMillen. Higdon points out in the notes that the short second movement, “Outward,” was requested by several performers who wanted a fast-moving ending to the piece, thus she complied, but in my view the first movement (marked “Inward”) is perfect the way it is. The clarinet functions here almost as an “extra” voice with its themes played above and/or apart from the string trio—at times, it plays completely alone—while the piano part generally plays gently rolling arpeggio triplets or “chime” chords, and there is a busy middle section that, for me, is more than enough to add contrast to the opening and closing sections. Although it is a peppy ending and the musicians play it well, I felt that “Outward” breaks the mood of the original piece.

This is most certainly a disc worth hearing and owning. Lynn René Bayley

New Music Box: Sounds Heard: An Exaltation of Larks

New Music Box

Sounds Heard: An Exaltation of Larks—The Lark Quartet performs Jennifer Higdon
By Dan Visconti on April 9, 2013

“Grammy and Pulitzer winner Jennifer Higdon certainly doesn’t require an introduction, yet it’s remarkable how often people’s opinions of her music seem—for better or for worse—to be formed based on her fantastically successful orchestral works. This new release from Bridge Records showcases a more intimate collection of chamber works that are unmistakably Higdon’s but which explore different reaches of her musical interests than tend to find expression in her large and frequently blockbuster orchestral works. It’s a refreshingly different side of her music and a great starting place towards appreciating what makes this composer tick.

Leading off, An Exaltation of Larks (2005) is 16-minute work in a single extended movement originally commissioned for the Toyko Quartet. The composition is a natural match for the Lark Quartet, and not just because of its title. The Lark is a quartet rooted in tradition and lyricism, yet the four musicians have an openness and sensitivity to timbre that brings their interpretations nuance as well as occasional edge. Likewise, Higdon’s music is also rooted in traditional means and sources, yet handled with a sense of humor and curiosity that expands classical tradition even as it draws from it. In the right measure, the tension between these complimentary tendencies is eloquent, personal, and strikingly realized. An Exaltation of Larks begins tenderly and is never far from receding into a kind of hushed, expectant quiet, yet the piece blossoms in several forays into ever more ecstatic (and just bordering on frenetic) patterns of rapid string crossing. It’s a great showpiece for the Lark Quartet and an impressive tour-de-force of the many ways a skilled composer can manage to be expressive and creative even when adhering (mostly) to solidly traditional quartet writing. The ability to achieve Higdon’s level of sheer sonic interest via largely traditional means is one of her most attractive qualities as a composer—an incredibly vivid imagination combined with a certain plainspoken, straightforward demeanor. (Those who know her might agree that this is a rather accurate portrait of the composer herself!)

Scenes from the Poet’s Dreams (1999) adds Gary Graffman to the mix for a left-hand-only piano quintet. Higdon writes that the inspiration for this work came from her curiosity over about dreams of poets:

“Because they presumably work in a world of imagination, would their dreams be different than what others might dream? Or are we all poets in our own dream worlds? The poet might be the main character or s/he might also just be part of the fabric, observing from the sidelines. This also represents the pianist’s role within a piano quintet, prominent but also just part of the story.”

This is especially true of the piano part in Higdon’s quintet, in which Graffman’s role is almost inconsequential enough to be superfluous, yet sparingly doled out over the entire composition to great effect—another example of Higdon’s economy of means providing character and interest. The movements lean toward the tranquil, although the third movement is worth noting for its positively nightmarish depiction of a host of electric insects. Here, Higdon breaks out all the stops including glissandi, tremolo passages, and ponticello effects punctuated by a funky groove in the low register of the piano—a rare eruption of instrumental color rendered all the more effective by the sturdy simplicity of the previous movements. Graffman’s playing is deft as always and the Larks pull off the virtuosity with a ferocity that made me imagine the cloud of rosin they must have inevitably produced during the recording session. By contrast, the quintet’s opening movement is a kind of cosmic reverie that cycles through all major keys, accelerating faster and faster through sudden changes of color, dynamics, and harmony.

The disc’s final offering, Light Refracted (2002) adds clarinetist Todd Palmer and pianist Blair McMillen to perform with members of the quartet. The work follows out of Higdon’s popular orchestral work Blue Cathedral. Inspired by Monet’s studies of the same subject viewed in different light, Higdon takes another look at her own musical materials and the result is a compelling two-movement work that becomes even more interesting for listeners who are already familiar with Blue Cathedral and will be able to appreciate the many ways that Higdon recasts that material.”

Texas Public Radio KPAC Blog

Three new chamber works on new Bridge cd

“While the Tokyo String Quartet commissioned and premiered “An Exaltation of Larks,” it is almost poetic that the Lark String Quartet has recorded the work by Jennifer Higdon. In fact, the larks have quite a history with new music and Jennifer Higdon.

The second composition on this new release from Bridge Records, “Scenes from the Poet’s Dreams,” was hand crafted for the group and pianist Gary Graffman.

“I can’t believe 14 years went by from the premiere to recording it!” – Jennifer Higdon on Scenes from the Poet’s Dreams

Higdon experimented with “Light Refracted” – a work from 2002 – taking material she had composed before, like a painter who captures a subject in different light. Fans of Higdon’s “Blue Cathedral” might just hear something familiar in the opening movement, Inward.Higdon is currently writing an opera “Cold Mountain” (based on the movie) and will be at Carnegie Hall for this year’s Spring For Music concerts. Later this month the Cypress Quartet premieres Higdon’s sixth string quartet and the second that she has tailored for the San Francisco based ensemble. We highly recommend this new cd, and hope you enjoy hearing it on KPAC!”


Expedition Audio

Expedition Audio
Jennifer Higdon: An Exaltaition of Larks/The Lark Quartet
by Paul Ballyk on March 31, 2013 in Contemporary


“The very significant poetic side of American composer Jennifer Higdon’s music is confirmed on this new album from Bridge Records. The performances are by the Lark Quartet in An Exaltation of Larks (2005), Scenes from the Poet’s Dreams (1999) where the quartet is joined by pianist Gary Graffman, and Light Refracted (2002) with clarinetist Todd Palmer joining the Larks.

I enjoyed these pieces the first few times I listened to them, taking in Ms. Higdon’s works as purely absolute music – without any implied references outside of the music itself. But it was after I got a chance to sit down and read the composer’s notes about each piece that they really came to life for me. Being aware of the imagery behind the music is essential to its full enjoyment. Take the opening work for example, An Exaltation of Larks for string quartet. I was not aware that one meaning of the word “exaltation” is “a flight of larks”, nor that a lark has a particular song that is delivered only in flight. Even without hearing Ms. Higdon’s music, is it easy to imagine how this knowledge would dramatically enhance your enjoyment of it. “Racing Through Stars”, “Summer Shimmers Across the Glass of Green Ponds”, and “I Saw the Electric Insects Coming” are titles from Ms. Higdon’s Scenes from the Poet’s Dreams. Here again, Higdon brings a panoply of vivid and evocative sounds to the service of her imagination.

Listen to the music sample offered here – the opening minutes of An Exaltation of Larks to get a feeling for Jennifer Higdon’s idiom. With an understanding of the inspiration, listening to this music is very rewarding.”


Amazon Reviews


4.0 out of 5 stars Perfect match of composer and ensemble, July 22, 2013
By Digital Chips, Inc. “DCD Records” (Hood, VA USA

From a marketing standpoint, it’s a natural — the all-female Lark Quartet performs music by female composer Jennifer Higdon, including her Lark Quartet. But this release is more than that. It’s actually about a very talented string quartet performing music by a very talented composer. Period. And on that level, An Exaltation of Larks succeeds admirably.

The title work is flowing, modal composition. According to the liner notes, Higdon’s intent was to mimic a group of birds, and the music does just that. It swoops and spins, the four instruments coming together and moving apart, just like flocking birds. Motifs twitter and trill like bird calls to. An Exultation of Larks is an appealing work, even if you don’t know the program.

Scenes from the Poet’s Dreams is an engaging and most unusual-sounding piano quintet. The work was commissioned by the Lark Quartet and Gary Graffman, who lost the use of his right hand. The piano part is for left hand only, thinning the texture somewhat. Higdon uses the restriction as a resource. the piano becomes a fifth single-line instrument, completely integrated into the ensemble.

Light Refacted — as befitting the title — is a somewhat angular work for string quartet, clarinet and piano, The ensemble gives Higdon a lot of textures to play with, and she does. The first movement “Inward” turns slowly like a prism in the sunlight, the various instruments coming together and moving apart, creating subtle permutations of sound. It all comes coalesces in the last movement “Outward.” All the players are united, and the united ensemble races ahead to an exciting climax.

5.0 out of 5 stars A beauty., May 9, 2013
By nancy rosenthalLovely music, beautifully played. This is an interesting composer, and it’s great that her works are being made available. Nancy

5.0 out of 5 stars
The more I hear of Higdon’s music the more impressed I become!, March 9, 2013
By Stuart Sillitoe

The more I hear of the American, Jennifer Higdon’s music the more impressed I become. Her music has a strong melodic line with the occasional sections of rhythmic intensity, making it very attractive and listenable modern music, and this new disc is no exception.

This disc opens with An Exaltation of Larks which is a sixteen minute single span string quartet composed in 2005, and despite the present performers it was actually commissioned for the Tokyo String Quartet. The title comes from the collective noun for a group of larks, a bird whose song is heard when they are in flight. There are some beautifully ethereal passages here intermingled with passages of more chattery sections of music catching the atmosphere of the scene portrayed.

The second piece on the disc Scene from the Poet’s Dream, is the earliest and most substantial work on the disc and dates from 1999, it is scored for piano left hand and string quartet. This is the most modern sounding of the three works on the disc, its five movements alternating between the more rhythmical aspects of Higdon’s music and the meditational. It may be the most modern sounding of the works presented here, but it is still very approachable and tuneful, a fine piano quintet.

The final work opens with arguably the most beautiful music on the disc; Light Refracted was composed in 2002 and is for clarinet, string trio and piano. The work is in two movements, the first, Inward, begins with a slow and atmospheric introduction on the clarinet which is then joined by the strings, the piano not entering until nearly two minutes into the piece, while the second begins with a more aggressive and choppy style. This is a wonderful piece, and despite my penchant for string quartets, it is my favourite work on the disc.

The Lark Quartet prove themselves to be wonderful exponents in this music, their intonation is spot on, and the interplay between themselves and the other performers, Gary Graffman in the quintet, and Todd Palmer and Blair McMillen in Light Refracted is exemplary.

This is a brilliant disc with the enjoyment for the listener heightened by the wonderfully informative notes by the composer herself, highly recommended.

WQXR-Jennifer Higdon Celebrates the Many Meanings of ‘Exaltation’


Jennifer Higdon Celebrates the Many Meanings of ‘Exaltation’
Q2 Music Album of the Week for the Week of March 4, 2013
Monday, March 04, 2013 By Hannis Brown

“Composer Jennifer Higdon opens her program notes for “An Exaltation of Larks” with a definition of “exaltation”: “an excessively intensified sense of well-being, power, importance; an increase in degree or intensity.” It’s also the word used to describe a group of larks.

On its new recording of music by the Pulitzer Prize-winning, Philadelphia-based composer, New York City’s Lark Quartet manages a performance that brings together the varying definitions of the word into a seamless whole that’s as much heart as it is head.

For the title track, the strings soar as a single entity, fracture into separate spirals of descent and come together again into shimmering, unified chords. It’s a migration distilled into 16 minutes: swoops and dives, tranquil and surreal dusk flying and plenty of joyous exaltations.

In Scenes from the Poet’s Dreams, Higdon paints sonic pictures of what she imagines a poet’s dreamscapes might resemble (“Racing Through Stars,” “Summer Shimmers Across The Glass Of Green Ponds”). It’s realistic landscape rendering more than it is reality filtered through the absurdist lens of the subconscious, but that doesn’t make it any less compelling.

Pianist Gary Graffman’s buoyant left hand defies the us-and-them duality of so much piano quintet accompaniment, bouncing nimbly around flutters of pizzicati, intercepting cello melodies and pairing off in games of catch with the individual strings. This is perhaps most aptly illustrated in movement III: “I Saw The Electric Insects Coming,” a jazzy and evocative knife dance of whining glissandi punctuated with menacing piano stabs and nauseated cello warblings.

The record closes with Light Refracted, a rumination on light that sees Lark joined by pianist Blair McMillen and clarinetist Todd Palmer. Beginning as a slowly morphing meditation that faces the danger of getting caught in the stickiness of its own saccharine, the music catches fire during its second movement, an almost cartoonish matrix of joyous counterpoint.

At moments, the programmatic quality of “An Exaltation of Larks” gets in the way of the music. This is music driven by sweet-voiced songbirds and the whimsical dreams of poets, so it’s no surprise that it occasionally suffers from an overbearing moment of romanticism. But there’s nothing wrong with a little sweetness now and then, and when the music is in full flight, it achieves that nearly perfect balance of craft and musicality for which Higdon is so deservedly celebrated.”

Klap Ur Handz Review
“Like other chamber groups in the line descended from San Francisco’s Kronos Quartet, the women of the Lark Quartet set out to mix concert music with contemporary vernacular materials, and the chief attraction of this album is that they choose interesting examples of each and play them with accuracy and vigor. Their program succeeds in being diverse, unexpected, and logical, all at the same time. The presence of one of the “serious” works of P.D.Q. Bach creator Peter Schickele is a surprise, yet the kinetic, Slavic scherzo of his tring Quartet No. 2, “In Memoriam” is an ideal overture. The quartet gets the personal lyricism of current critical favorite Paul Moravec just right. The arrangements of Gershwin songs for quartet by Broadway composer Stanley Silverman stress Gershwin’s mastery of contrapuntal fundamentals, and the Lark players let the music speak for itself rather than adding the mannerisms of musicals. It is the final work, by the widely publicized young Haitian American composer Daniel Bernard Roumain, that may attract the most attention to this disc. Roumain has attempted to incorporate hip-hop influences into his music, and in the opening movement of his &Quartet No. 5, “Rosa Parks”), bearing the “Klap Ur Handz” title, he instructs the players to do just that in order to create a semblance of a big hip-hop beat. But that is not the only weapon in Roumain’s arsenal; his second movement, “I made up my mind not to move,” suggests Rosa Parks’ act of defiance not with ponderous dignity but with a sharp ostinato that suggests stubbornness and confrontation. It is the final “Isorhythmiclastionistc” movement that brings sustained notes and a tragic mood. The Lark gives the work a straightforward performance that one suspects the composer, who is pictured in the cover art, must have liked a good deal. As for the general listener, anyone interested in the broad chamber music trend toward engagement with audiences will find much to enjoy in this well-executed recording.” -All Music Guide

Alfred Schnittke CD Review


Alfred Schnittke Z6707
String Quartets No. 2 and No. 3
Piano Quintet (with Gary Graffman)

CD Reviews

Alfred Schnittke: String Quartets Nos. 2 and 3; Piano Quintet
with Gary Graffman, piano
Arabesque Z6707

****As a grittier alternative to Kronos’ Schnittke, the Lark Quartet has also recorded two of the composer’s quartets, the Second and the Third, as well as the eerie, gloom-tinged Piano Quintet. This is a young, fearless ensemble that takes an aggressive approach to contemporary music-the Lark premiered Aaron Jay Kernis’ Pulitzer Prize-winning String Quartet No.2-and its performances here are unlike those of Kronos, but similarly revelatory. Both pieces, as well as the elegiac Piano Quintet, are played with plenty of tonal depth and verve.
San Francisco Chronicle-July 1998

We have the Lark and Kronos String Quartets to thank for new recordings of music by Alfred Schnittke, who died this summer. (The Piano Quintet) is played with poignancy on the Lark Quartet’s recording, a disc that imbues the Quartets Nos. 2 and 3 with lyrical strivings. For the Quintet, Curtis Institute director Gary Graffman makes and agile and thoughtful keyboard guest.
The Philadelphia Inquirer-September 1998

The already impressive list of fine musicians who’ve recorded the music of Alfred Schnittke is extended yet again by this new release from the four women of the Lark Quartet. This dedicated, dynamic ensemble explores the composer’s music in its characteristically elegiac mood. It gets to grips with the popular Third Quartet, explores its less well-known predecessor, and with pianist Gary Graffman delivers a refined reading of the Piano Quintet. The Lark succeeds masterfully.
BBC Music Magazine-October 1998

The all-female Lark Quartet has issued a disc coupling (Schnittke’s) 2nd and 3rd quartets with the piano quintet. The Moscow String Quartet has paired the same quintet with Shostakovich …the Kronos Quartet has taken on all of Schnittke’s chamber work….

The Lark Quartet disc is a hands-down winner on every count. The quartet’s tone is warm and rich, handsomely accommodating Schnittke’s references to tradition. Yet, where coloristic effect is called for, the Lark goes for the throat, rendering each phrase with gripping power and utmost control. The performance of the Quintet is likewise intense…the result is ethereal and powerful in equal measure.
Tucson Citizen-August 1998

The young, American, all-female Lark Quartet have been gathering prizes and critical encomia over the past ten years or so, and these sensitively prepared performances of three of Schnittke’s most memorable chamber pieces shows just why. I’m pretty sure I’ve not heard a better focused or more full-blooded account of the Second Quartet, nor one which held my attention more consistently. In the Third Quartet, where Schnittke distils his existential Angst into a more cogent and moving structure, The Lark have nothing to fear from comparison with the Borodin Quartet…”
Gramophone-October 1998

Coincidental with Schnittke’s death comes the release of several recordings…, among them the Kronos Quartet’s traversal of his chamber works, two new recordings of his Piano Quintet, the Lark Quartet’s rip-snorting account of his String Quartets Nos. 2 and 3 and the Bolshoi Theatre’s spirited recording of his ballet Esquisses. As might be expected, the Kronos traversal of the quartets has a distinct personality to it. The surprise is how much better the Lark Quartet plays the Quartets 2 and 3. The first thing one notices is the richness and warmth of the Lark’s ensemble sound. What comes as such a shock is how much more expressive and colorful the Lark makes each work. From both a sonic and interpretive standpoint, the Lark’s reading of the Piano Quintet outdistances that of the Moscow String Quartet. The Lark, by contrast, lets rip the full range, from the ethereal to the bombastic.
Stereophile-November 1998