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Classical Music Review

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Playing on the Edge


Composers: Various
Performed by: Sirius Quartet - Fung Chern Hwei (violin), Gregor Huebner (violin), Ron Lawrence (viola) and Jeremy Harman (cello)
Label: Navona Records
RRP: £13.99
Release Date: 13 September 2019

NYC-based Sirius Quartet showcase five genre-bending contemporary composers on their latest Navona Records release, Playing on the Edge. The album brings inspiration and experience from all walks of life into one string quartet collection with the music of composers Jennifer Castellano, Ian Erickson, Brian Field, Marga Richter, and Mari Tamaki...

Each piece on Playing on the Edge involves unconventional tactics, from performers choosing the order of movements to music that completely evolves rhythmically and harmonically from beginning to end. Emphasis on dissonant chords, sul ponticello bowings (quite literally playing on the edge), jagged and uneven rhythmic movement, and general innovation and rule-bending from each composer permeates the album.

While I'm not a fan of modern classical music that doesn't touch my soul or tug at the heart strings, I can appreciate the intricacies of the compositions on Playing on the Edge. If I'm honest I probably won't ever play this again - as it was just cold, and unemotional for me. It's one thing to write music that sounds improvised and disjointed, but I imagine that it's very difficult to perform it with any real conviction. So hats of to the players of the Sirius Quartet for really getting under the skin of the composers here.

Technically the compositions are flawless (probably - how would we know if half of the notes were performed incorrectly?) but there's little here to make you want to even bother listening to it a second time.

The one shining beacon of light is Mari Tamaki's 'Sneak into the Q-City', which sounds strangely out of place. It has form, substance, high and low points and some beautifully moving segments... Without this the entire album would have been one for cold hearted technicians only.

Track listing:

Ian Erickson
01 - öðlo (8:32)

Marga Richter
String Quartet no. 3
02 - I (3:26)
03 - II (4:40)
04 - III (7:14)

Jennifer Castellano
Images by Paul Klee
05 - I. Twittering Machine (3:27)
06 - II. Dream City (1:55)
07 - III. Fugue in Red (1:34)

Brian Field
String Quartet No. 1
08 - I (2:49)
09 - II (5:21_
10 - III (2:29)
11 - IV (3:16)

Mari Tamaki
12 - Sneak into the Q-City (7:32)


Darren Rea

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