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This Is The Balanescu Quartet

Notes & Reviews:

The Balanescu Quartet shatters all formality and stuffiness on this album of reinterpretation of music by pioneering German electronica band Kraftwerk, as well as Alexander Balanescu's own contributions. The entire quartet has also been, pardon the pun, instrumental in arranging Kraftwerk's music, and the overall result is an album that is avant-garde and great fun to listen to. Rather than emphasizing legato lines and formal technique, the string quartet is used as a medium for performing modern music, which is sometimes interspersed with recorded samples, voice, and percussion. "East" is a good example of a rough and edgy sound, with aggressive cello patterns that are no less stirring than rock & roll. "The model" truly sounds like rock & roll, with what sounds like the middle voices playing the rhythm section and the cello and first violin playing the melody; the overall harmonic structure feels like a rock song. One might even suggest that this piece is rather like Paganini's 24th Caprice sampled and looped. "Revolution" does feature actual sampled sounds and spoken word, the Balanescu Quartet going electronic: this is hip art music at its best. However, this album is not all uptempo, popular music in feel. "Wine's so good" begins with pizzicato, moves into a jazz-like passage, and even into an Eastern European folk melody that is first sung and then transferred into the strings. Here, the quartet plays the violins in a folk-like manner, without much vibrato. There are also echoes of minimalism, à la Philip Glass, for repeating patterns in each instrument create musical texture and density. One can hear this in "Coppice," where the motion in the voices is like waves under a violin singing above. The Balanescu Quartet also pays heed to its musical ancestors, for one can hear a Viennese grace in the strings in Waltz with the deep-slicing cello and the high, singing violins, as well as the beautiful "Love scene." A pleading, vulnerable violin is quite stirring in "The young conscript and the Moon," while Aria is like a haunting, flowing aria. There are moments when members of the quartet sound slightly flat; whether or not this is intentional is not clear, but it does seem to give a slightly under-energized quality to some of the pieces. But overall, the musicians truly understand their music, making it an extremely exciting, unique experience for the listener. Who can resist a voiceover saying "I'm the operator with my pocket calculator" with a string quartet simulating techno music underneath? ~V. Vasan


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