The Strad Issue: October 2018
Description: Energetic accounts of music by a modern minimalist
Musicians: Smith Quartet
Works: NYMAN String Quartets nos.4 & 5
Catalogue Number: MN Records MNRCD141
To anyone familiar with the Balanescu Quartet’s raw, punchy, somewhat aggressive recordings of Michael Nyman quartets from a decade or two ago, this fine new disc on the composer’s own label might come as a surprise. The Smith Quartet takes a far cleaner, crisper, more buoyant approach to Nyman’s music.
Yes, the familiar driving rhythms, the merciless ostinatos and the pop-like syncopations are all still there, but there’s also a more considered restraint behind the propulsive energy. Lines are etched with brilliant clarity in the Smith musicians’ playful account of the Fifth Quartet, which they premiered in 2011, and they bring into sharp focus the aching, childlike simplicity of Nyman’s slow music, not least in the second movement’s tear-jerkingly naive melody.
Nyman’s Fourth Quartet is a very different beast, cast in twelve short but interrelated movements, and expanded from the furiously virtuosic solo-violin Yamamoto Perpetuo, written by Nyman in 1993 for fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto’s autumn show.
The end result finds fresh new contexts for the first violin’s dazzling fiddle fireworks, sometimes even relegating them to accompanying figurations, and the Smith players respond with an affectionate, faithful performance that glows with vigour, from the relentless scrubbing patterns of the seventh movement to the rambunctious polytonality of the tenth. Recorded sound is warm, generous and authentic.