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Seven Steps

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Album Review

This may not look like it from the graphics, but it's a recording of Beethoven's "String Quartet No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 131," paired with a group of contemporary works, one of them collectively composed by the members of Brooklyn Rider themselves. The general idea of pairing repertory works with modern compositions with which they share some structural or philosophical analogue is a good one. And the Beethoven performance itself is very strong, notable in view of the fact that the mainstream-work performances have often been the weak point in the recordings of Brooklyn Rider's chief model, the Kronos Quartet. It takes the slow movements largely without vibrato, early music-style, and heightens the dynamic contrasts throughout, hoping to give the work a kaleidoscopic quality that links it to the two contemporary pieces. The title track is a sort of multi-stylistic suite, in seven sections, ranging from Baroque to klezmer, while Christopher Tignor's "Together into This Unknowable Night" features samples, percussion, and an AM radio, and examines the possible relationships between the strings and the electronic elements. All this is convincing as far as it goes. But the overall concept works less well, perhaps because the massive Op. 131 quartet was not the best pick for the project. "The idea of creating 'Seven Steps' was partially born out of the need to define a place where the labyrinth of Beethoven's colossal Op. 131 could work itself out guided by a spirit of free play rather than the heavy weight of the auteur's pen," the group members wrote. So be it, but an emphasis on sevens and on short sections in diverse styles doesn't quite suffice to knit this material together, something that even listeners who've come to the album from the pop side have noted. Still, the album is undeniably stimulating, and Beethovenians may be interested in the fresh performance of the "String Quartet No. 14" itself.

Seven Steps, Brooklyn Rider
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