International Harvesters

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Kronos Quartet

Music of Sculthorpe, Glass, Conlon, Nancarrow & Jimi Hendrix

Nonesuch Digital 979111-1

With the possible exception of Glassworks and a John Adams compilation featuring “Short Ride in a Fast Car”, the Kronos Quartet was my intro into contemporary and obscure classical music. I owned their Philip Glass String Quartets on CD and Early Music, and when streaming came about, Different Trains and works by Steve Reich were mainstays. Unlike most chamber musicians, they don’t play Beethoven or Dvorak (although I’d sign up for either of those), but focus mainly on modern works, generally after 1940 or so. (They should be famous simply for their curatorial skills; i.e. Black Angels, one of the most harrowing albums I’ve ever heard, opening with George Crumb’s terrifying Vietnam soundscape and culminating with Shostakovich’s equally brutal WWII String Quartet No. 8)

Needless to say, the Kronos is versatile. They worked with Clint Mansell on the Requiem for a Dream soundtrack, covered Bill Evans, folk music, African music, Harry Partch and Thelonius Monk, for starters. Named for the Titan representing the harvest, the Kronos Quartet certainly harvests from nearly every musical style in the world.

This self-titled record from 1986 kicked off their international renown, and is an ideal place to start to get a sense of their multifaceted approach. Philip Glass’s “Company”Quartet (No. 2, and done for an adaptation of a Samuel Beckett piece) is vintage early Glass, with a pulsating, though pacific tempo. The Nancarrow, on the other hand, is filled with rambunctious atonality, and with the rest of the works, it’s almost like an anti-concept album if the concept is a cohesive mood.

It’s a diverse sampling from a group espousing the most diverse sounds. And of course there’s a transcription of Jimi Hendrix’s most famous song.

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