New Releases Out on Navona and Ravello Records

St. Helens String Quartet

The intersection of classical music and popular and folk music is where the journey begins for the Seattle-based Saint Helens String Quartet – consisting of Stephen Bryant, violin; Adrianna Hulscher, violin; Michael Lieberman, viola; and Paige Stockley, cello – exploring a sonic vision of American culture presented by four contemporary composers on their debut Navona Records release, AMERICAN DREAMS.
Grammy Award-winning composer Peter Schickele’s five-movement String Quartet No. 1, American Dreams weaves together jazz, Appalachian folk, and waltz structures into a pastoral and Coplandesque work that evokes distant images of rural America. Swing Low by Kenneth Benshoof uses the traditional spiritual “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” for its motivic material, creating shifting tones of obscurity and clarity through alternating textures. Read More

Skyros Quartet

Follow three composers on a journey through early 20th-century Europe, reflecting on various experiences including the life of a student, the rush of bullfighting, and the folklore of Scandinavia on the debut Navona Records release by the Skyros Quartet, INTROSPECTIVE ODYSSEY. Consisting of Sarah Pizzichemi, violin; James Moat, violin; Justin Kurys, viola; and William Braun, cello; the quartet presents works by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976), Joaquín Turina (1882-1949), and Jean Sibelius (1865-1957).

Written while he was a student, the Three Divertimenti by Britten creates a dazzling and witty display of youthful enthusiasm. Weaving a narrative tone poem set in Spain, Turina presents an exotic showpiece in La Oración del Torero (‘The Prayer of the Bullfighter’), with a distinct flamenco flair through the idiom of French post-impressionism. Subtitled “Voces Intimae” (“Intimate Voices”), Sibelius wrote these words on the manuscript over three dark and hushed chords in the third movement, marking the center of String Quartet in D minor, Op. 56. The composer combines post-romanticism, 20th-century modernism, and Scandinavian folksongs influenced by the Kalevala, the national epic poem of Karelia and Finland. The captivating and emotive interpretations by the Skyros Quartet show them as a versatile, fastidious, and passionate group, versed in performing a number of musical styles and traditions. Read More

David DeVasto, John G. Bilotta, Paula Diehl

On CRIMSON & LACE, Navona Records’ compilation of modern works for voice and chamber ensemble, composers John G. Bilotta, David DeVasto, and Paula Diehl present works that depict the struggles as well as the rewards of human experience, such as heartache, death, love, hope, uncertainty, tragedy, and the resilience of the human spirit.

John G. Bilotta’s The Song of the Hermit Thrush for soprano, flute, oboe, violin, viola, and violoncello uses text from a section of Walt Whitman’s poem “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” The excerpt is a celebration, welcoming “the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding Death.” Winter Seven for baritone, choir, flute, viola, and piano by David DeVasto presents seven images of winter and the “wintry,” cold, even brutal aspects of human experience. From natural phenomena to the Black Plague and the Civil War, this seven-movement work depicts a cycle of winter itself, from the onset of chill to the first glimpses of spring, illustrating a struggle toward some intimation of acceptance and hope. Read More

Kostov-Valkov Duo

On their debut Navona Records release, KOSTOV-VALKOV DUO: TRANSCRIPTIONS AND PARAPHRASES FOR CELLO AND PIANO, the Kostov-Valkov Duo – cellist Lachezar Kostov and pianist Viktor Valkov – present a powerful and invigorating program, showcasing their virtuosity and superior technique with commanding performances of works by Franz Liszt, Buxton Orr, Bohuslav Martinů, and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco.

Exemplifying the Duo’s ground-breaking and virtuosic arrangements, the three works by Franz Liszt include the first arrangement for cello and piano of the well-known Hungarian Rhapsody, No. 2. The Duo places Hungarian Rhapsody, No. 1, a lesser-performed piece of Liszt’s collection, in a Romani style, building to a fast and wild Czárdás ending. The pieces by Orr, Martinů, and Castelnuovo-Tedesco paraphrase and reference earlier works by Bizet and Rossini. Buxton Orr’s A Carmen Fantasy is a lively and romantic work, which illustrates Kostov’s fluid vibrato and Valkov’s harmonic control and elegance. Martinů’s Variations on a Theme of Rossini sets passages from Rossini in a 20th-century style of form and variation, using playful and racing lines between the cello and piano. Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Figaro paraphrases “Largo al factotum” from Rossini’s Barber of Seville with a spirited yet graceful conversation. Throughout this album, the Kostov-Valkov Duo push the limits of their instruments, unraveling these inspired works with passion, aplomb, refinement, and brilliance. Read More

Michael Matthews | Clearwater String Quartet

Inspired by the worlds of literature and nature, composer Michael Matthews, in his Ravello Records release, STRING QUARTETS, follows in the tradition of such 20th-century composers as Webern and Shostakovich, using his expressive musical language to explore existential and humanistic discourses about society, nature, and our place as individuals in the world.

Performed by the Clearwater String Quartet, many of these works highlight the sharp contrasts, intensity, and varying textures of Matthews’ style. At times, the music is mysterious and brooding, at other times it is intense, angular, and frenetic. The composer says of his music, “I want to compel listeners to step beyond the everyday and to dwell for a while in images of paradox, to consider the ever-changing tapestry of life.” Reflecting on personal and societal conditions, Matthews’ music is serious, intelligent, complex in thematic structure, and rich in motivic relationships. His String Quartet No. 2 is energetic and dramatic, recalling the Second Viennese School, while Miniatures focuses on exploration and discovery from a distinctly North American perspective. The string quartet genre provides a fertile and transparent vehicle for Matthews’s music, with its dark timbre and textures emphasizing the clarity, tension, and brilliance of his works. Read More

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