This intriguing new release from New World Records features the unusual combination of string quartet with percussion. The Eclipse Quartet—Sarah Parkins, violin; Sarah Thornblade, violin; Alma Lisa Fernandez, viola; and Maggie Parkins, cello—are joined by percussionist William Winant for an eclectic program of three substantial works, one each from three experimental composers representing two generations. Although disparate in approach and sound, all three works demonstrate the deeply sympathetic relationship that can obtain between string quartet and percussion.
Frederic Rzewski’s Whimwhams (1993) for string quartet and marimba opens the disc. The work, structured in units of eleven, draws on a late-modern vocabulary of harmony and phrasing to set up a rhythmically complex relationship between the quartet and the marimba. James Tenney’s Cognate Canons (1993) follows and alters the atmosphere considerably. Although its dynamics are largely subdued and its expressive range deliberately limited, it is predominantly a compelling study of subtly dramatic contrasts–of long-bowed chords and pointillistic events carried on plucked strings, and of timbral differences between the strings and the various pitched and unpitched percussion instruments. The closing piece is the notably eclectic s:c:a:t:t:e:r:i:n:g by Zeena Parkins, sister of violinist Sarah and cellist Maggie. The three section work, which gives a prominent role to Winant on the metallophone, a tuned percussion instrument constructed for Lou Harrison, incorporates composed and improvised passages, as well as electronic white noise, string drones and the players’ vocalizations. What might have been a ragbag of effects is in fact a coherent work, thanks to its well-plotted structure and the performers’ deft realization.