21st Century Music (USA)

George Rochberg’s String Quartet no. 3 is one of the great essays in this medium of the latter half of the 20th century. How wonderful to hear the Kreutzer Quartet perform this influential work – on a level rivalling that of the premiere recording by the now-defunct Concord Quartet so many years ago – in a new disc from Metier. Here again is a piece that plays with expectations, from the severe structural Stravinskyian brusqueries of the opening movement to the warm glow of the quasi-Beethoven theme-and-variations of the middle movement. Flanking this are two headstrong Bartok/Stravinsky marches, concluding with a Mahler-tinged finale. Through it all, Rochberg finds motivic and thematic links that never allow for the music to come off as a disjointed college, yet at the same time never allow one to escape a certain intriguing sense of stylistic schizophrenia. If the Kreutzer lingers and thrusts a bit differently than the Concord, so much the better by now. Composed only a few years after the Rochberg, Elliott Schwartz’s Bellagio Variations is a stimulating multi-stylistic wander through a labyrinthine set of variations on a revealed theme of Otto Luening,. Schwartz twists all the knobs, from spiky to sentimental, to keep the listener engaged throughout. This is a keeper album.

—Mark Alburger