The Strad Issue: January 2010
Musicians: Solaris Quartet
Composer: Gurdjeff & de Hartmann (arr. Solaris Quartet)

Greek–Armenian mystic George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff travelled extensively through Central Asia, Russia and Egypt, collecting sacred, monastic and tribal music and then transcribing and arranging it with the help of Russian composer Thomas de Hartmann in the 1920s. The resulting volumes of piano music have been rearranged for string quartet for the first time here.

The unmistakably Romantic sound world built by Hartmann around the transcriptions will sound conservative to ears familiar with the Silk Road Ensemble and Kronos Quartet’s contemporary interpretations of Asian music, and the persistent ‘top-line melody plus accompaniment’ format gets a little monotonous. But the Solaris Quartet players offer a considered and convincing performance. The cello and viola, throbbing almost imperceptibly in the opening Chant and offering measured drones elsewhere, rightly focus attention on the melody, though the lower parts do surge and thrust when required, as in the Dervish Dance and Kurd Melody. Up top, Roland Roberts brings the melodies to life with commitment, and if the recorded sound comes across as a little distant and detached, we can perhaps attribute this to an equal commitment to Gurdjieff’s spiritual ethos – that we should learn to hear this ancient music without listening.

Chris Elcombe