Review: Scrapyard Exotica

19 October 2016

Ken Ueno, Mohammed Fairouz, Mason Bates, Sono Luminus, Scrapyard Exotica, Contemporary, Del Sol String Quartet

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Dive into Scrapyard Exotica, a dazzling testament to the versatility and virtuosity of the Del Sol String Quartet.

You might not at once associate the string quartet with the cutting edge of new music. But ever since the Arditti Quartet on the one hand and Kronos on the other began to spearhead a revolution in quartet writing, the tradition beloved of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven has gone leaping and bounding into the new millennium. The Del Sol String Quartet here brings us three very different manifestations of those leaps. And whether or not you feel it is imperative for new music to reflect life in the present day, in whatever way, there is some seriously good music here to explore.

Mason Bates’s Bagatelles for String Quartet and Electronica manage to be both pointillist and funky, the textures bristling with sampled sounds provided by the quartet (who seem to have excelled themselves when invited into the studio to see what unusual noises they could generate). The Bagatelle format – established thanks to Beethoven as a short, startling invention that can explore any manner of concentrated sonic idea – lends itself well to the variety of Bates’s imagination, rooted in powerful rhythm and full of whimsy. It’s the second piece from which the album’s title is taken. But rest assured that none of the music on this recording should go anywhere near a scrapyard any time soon.

It is not every string quartet whose violist can do Tuvan throat-singing, but the Del Sol’s Charlton Lee, having shown the composer Ken Ueno that he had some idea of it, found himself learning for real and being woven into Paradem as a result. This very filmic excursion into diamond-hunting (as the composer’s programme note explains) is rich with further extraordinary noises. Gritty, grating, rocky effects, the chunky harmonies of granite, abrasive questing: all these have their place.

Mohammed Fairouz is a powerful voice among rising star composers in the USA, inspired not least by a multi-faith attitude that brings together elements from musical traditions associated with the world’s three main monotheistic religions. The four angels – Michael, Asrael, Gabriel, Israfel – prove a fine framework for a quartet that, while rooted in the genre’s classical four-movement format, explores philosophical ideas associated with those angels, whether they be messengers of death or annunciation, quest or apocalypse. It’s a splendid work, original, personal and shot through with impassioned inspiration, and the Del Sol Quartet does it proud.

The release as a whole helps to display the thriving scene of contemporary repertoire for quartet, and is a dazzling testament for the versatility and virtuosity of these performers.

Jessica Duchen
Performance: five stars
Sound: five stars

Scrapyard Exotica 
Mason Bates: Bagatelles for String Quartet and Eletronica
Ken Ueno: ParademMohammed
Fairouz: The Named Angels Del Sol String Quartet 
Sono Luminus DSL 92193

Jessica Duchen’s music journalism has appeared in The Independent, The Guardian and The Sunday Times. She is the author of a number of novels (most recently Ghost Variations, published in 2016), biographies and plays. Current projects include an opera libretto for composer Roxanna Panufnik (for Garsington Opera 2017). Her popular blog JDCMB has run since 2004.

Scrapyard Exotica


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