THE AMERICAN STRING PROJECT
LIVE 2007 - BARTOK & SCHUBERT
Bela Bartók, Franz Schubert
THE AMERICAN STRING PROJECT
Barry Lieberman & Maria Larionoff, Artistic Directors
Arranged for Strings by Barry Lieberman
"...superbly played by the all-star American String Project."
Turok's Choice - Issue No.205, December 2008
"The America String Project (founded 9-11-01) is a conductorless orchestra on the pattern of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra; and like that group, the ensemble shifts the leadership position of concertmaster around, so that, respectively, Ani Kavafian and Jorja Fleezanis mold the Schubert and Bartok string orchestra arrangements by double-bass and principal founder, Barry Lieberman. Some years ago, I reviewed Jeffrey Tate’s string orchestra performance of Death and the Maiden in Mahler’s transcription; so, I wondered, why Lieberman felt the need to improve on Mahler’s adaptation. Lieberman answers my query in his liner note, in which he states he added bass fiddle parts in places Mahler felt the writing proved too challenging; also, Lieberman allows soli to enter the texture, as in Ani Kavafian’s elaborate, concertante playing in the trio of the Scherzo.
The execution of the The American String Project proves quite facile, the homogeneity of sound and the seamless shifting of dynamic levels adjusted as one, so the expanded nature of the orchestration retains its essential, intimate nature. The graduated intensity of the variants on the song Death and the Maiden, over a palpable bass pedal, achieve some febrile affects, a real tempestuousness of emotion. The Presto sounds with a galloping urgency and muscular girth in which Schubert’s more haunted specters express themselves in "symphonic" terms.
By Lieberman’s own admission, the adaptation of Bartok’s Quartet in A Minor "presented the most supreme challenge the Project has ever attempted." The work has no pauses between movements; while the sudden shifts in tempi and registration intra-movement, never relinquish their demands on the most talented solo players. Darkly moody and expressive, the A Minor as a chamber symphony aligns itself to the sound of the Divertimento for Strings and to the colors that Leo Wiener promoted at the Budapest Conservatory. Modal and brooding, the tonal world of youthful Bartok suggests both Albert Roussel and Henri Rousseau, each in his own medium a colorist of disturbing energies.
As in the Schubert, the solo violin--Jorja Fleezanis of the Minnesota Orchestra--intones an eerie and haunting melodic line. At one major cadence of the first movement, we can hear clearly the influence of the late Beethoven quartets, particularly Op. 131. The forward-looking harmonies of the big Allegretto movement more than suggest Shostakovich, their sharing that same martial, darkly ominous vision that Schiele, Munch, and Chirico portray in their respective pictures of the early 20th Century.
Ani Kalayjian provides the pained cello line, with accompanying kudos to violas Joseph Gottesman and David Harding. The last movement, Allegro vivace, expands the Magyar affect, both aggressive and bittersweet, the intensity extreme. Suddenly, the music breaks off one-third of the way in its journey, the music taking a recitativo or two from Beethoven and allowing the solo cello to speak. We readily expect a fugato to follow, here in nervous, gypsy style. Wry, ironic passages alternate with shifting elements of darkness, the mix becoming a sizzling Slavonic paste. When the brew settles, Fleezanis intones a dirge for troubled times; then, to quote the poet, "the darkness drops again." Even some aerial transports into the major cannot quite alleviate the angst this superheated live performance has managed to impart to us, and the aroused audience quite agrees."
Audiophile Audition - December 2008
"[In Lieberman's Schubert arrangement] the music contains more depth and color, and the structure comes out better than before...the ensemble playing is impressive."
Fanfare - November / December 2008
"...imaginatively resourceful transcriptions... the American String Project's performances need no justification, historical or otherwise. Due in small measure to the expert leadership of the two primarias, ensemble values are in a league with the front ranks of conventional string quartets. Accuracy of attack, secure intonation, beautifully executed agogic nuances and uniformly adept bowing all contribute to the success of these satisfying readings... Technical values of the recording, captured in a sympathetic acoustical space with rich presence, are superb... as with the best transcriptions, the refined and viscerally exciting performances, through alterations of weight and volume, provide startling insights into music we thought we knew. Warmly recommended."
International Record Review - October 2008
"Bartok's Quartet works surprisingly well in [this] orchestral arrangement. Here the deeper, darker colours provided by orchestral strings enlarge the music's atmosphere and mood, projecting it onto a larger canvas, as it were... The Bartok really makes this disc worthwhile."
Gramophone - Awards Issue (October) 2008
"[the Schubert] is nicely paced and quite joyful."
American Record Guide - September / October 2008
"[In the Schubert] the execution of the The American String Project proves quite facile, the homogeneity of sound and the seamless shifting of dynamic levels adjusted as one, so the expanded nature of the orchestration retains its essential, intimate nature...[In the Bartok] Ani Kalayjian provides the pained cello line, with accompanying kudos to violas Joseph Gottesman and David Harding...Even some aerial transports into the major cannot quite alleviate the angst this superheated live performance has managed to impart to us, and the aroused audience quite agrees."
Audiophile Audition - July 2008
"Judging from what I heard on this disc, The American String Project 2007, Barry Lieberman’s arrangements of Schubert’s Quartet No. 14, "Death and the Maiden" and Bartok’s Quartet no. 1 in A Minor, are stunningly conceived...Both the Schubert and the Bartok Quartets are notable for their rich, orchestra-like sonorities, and these arrangements bring that aspect of the music to the fore. So do the performances, which give credibility to the group’s slogan, "a virtuoso in every chair." As often as I’ve heard "Death and the Maiden," this version of Schubert’s masterwork really gave me goose-bumps, from the unrelenting triplet figurations in the opening Allegro to the hauntingly beautiful melody in the Andantino, and finally the demonic finale that gallops by like a vision of ghostly death. The textural clarity is beautiful here...listen for violinist Ani Kavafian’s eloquent solos in both...The effect of this performance [of the Bartok] by the members of the Project is nothing less than sensational."
Atlanta Audio Society - March 2008
ON LIVE 2006 [MS1226]: "...the best string orchestral playing TC has heard in decades. Virtuosic not only in precision...but in expressive nuances."
Turok's Choice - December 2007
PROGRAM NOTESIf you are familiar with the solo and chamber music literature of the double bass, well... you must be a double bassist. Only bassists or fans of the instrument know the works of Dittersdorf, Dragonetti and Bottesini. Most music for the bass was written by bass players themselves to give them something to play and to help develop their own personal technique. There are no works for solo bass by Mozart, Bach or Beethoven. It’s only slightly better in the realm of chamber music, with some offerings by Beethoven, Rossini, Stravinsky and, most notably, Schubert. The fact is that the best music written for the double bass is the bass parts of orchestral works.
When I began my tenure at the University of Washington and created the series "Barry Lieberman and Friends," I started to explore the effects of adding the bass to string quartets and quintets. While somewhat satisfying for me, the overall performance was too heavily weighted in the bottom voices. I realized that the only way to include the bass in the vast chamber literature would be to multiply the number of players to balance the upper, middle and lower voices. That balance, in terms of the Project, created an orchestra - from the bottom up - comprising one bass, two cellos, three violas, four second violins and five first violins.
A chance meeting at my local off-leash dog park with the man who would become our first board president (Dr. Alan Morgan) was the impetus for making the Project a reality. As we walked with our dogs, I sketched the idea of a unique "conductorless" string orchestra made up of many of my friends from all over the world, each one a great performer. We would bring them to Seattle for one week and perform great chamber works in the newly built Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall in Benaroya Hall.
Thinking that this was just pleasant talk about an impossible dream, I was amazed to receive an email from Alan late that evening, complete with a detailed budget for my crazy idea. We gathered our Seattle friends, proposed the idea of the Project, and asked for volunteers to create the board. Everyone there agreed to participate and the Project was born. Our first meeting was held on September 11, 2001 - a momentous day for everyone in the world.
Next was my great joy in inviting players to come and choosing the repertoire for our first season. That season’s concerts, in May 2002, featured works by Shostakovich, Ravel, Haydn, Mendelssohn and others - nine works in all - and prepared in one week. Our players included concertmasters from several major orchestras, professors, and professional chamber musicians, and reviews were universally exceptional. Since that first season, the Project has performed more than 60 string quartet and quintet arrangements.
When trying to describe the Project to someone, our dilemma is whether to talk about it as a chamber music ensemble or an orchestra because it is both, and neither. One thing about which all who perform with the Project agree: it is the most fun a musician can have. We are never quite sure what the best part is— the music, the other musicians, the city, or just the joy of playing. My favorite observation about the Project is from Gramophone magazine: "While in action the players must have been in string quartet heaven."