Calidore String Quartet: Resilience
The cover of this new release from the Calidore Quartet has the four players standing in sunglasses in a Manhattan street, with the Freedom Tower rising behind them. In this business you don’t judge a book by its cover, but I can’t entirely discount the possibility that this was why, as they launch into Prokofiev’s Second Quartet – and repeatedly throughout the disc – I kept thinking of minimalism.
That’s meant in the most positive way, of course. Everything here has a clarity and an underlying rhythmic energy that I found enormously invigorating, whether in their bracing approach to Mendelssohn’s tragic F minor Quartet – a near ideal meeting of lyricism and high tension – or the playful rhythmic kick-and-a-swing they give to the Prokofiev. The booklet explains that the album is themed around the idea of human resilience in the face of suffering, but Prokofiev’s folk-inspired quartet has a playful spirit, even though it was written in wartime, and that comes through with real warmth and wit.
In fact, for all the crisp attention to detail (listen to those sul ponticello stabs), the two central works in the programme – Janáček’s The Kreutzer Sonata and Osvaldo Golijov’s millennial meditation Tenebrae – come off as pensive rather than pointed. The recorded sound is translucent and upfront but the individual players repeatedly find a sweetness of expression (cellist Estelle Choi’s long, high solo in the Golijov is a case in point) that sets up a fascinating tension with the group’s overall dynamism, and indeed objectivity. Freshness doesn’t have to be chilly, and precision needn’t inhibit expression. These lively, intelligent performances of an attractive and thought-provoking programme offer compelling proof.