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Bergamot Quartet Takes Us to the Brink

In the Brink Bergamot Quartet New Focus Recordings FCR 316 Total Time: 50:54 Recording: ****/**** Performance: ****/****

Formed at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, the Bergamot Quartet looks for works that help expand the quartet literature. They advocate for the work of living composers, especially bring to the fore work by women, but like to look for works that are building and transforming the inherited Western tradition. Their bold debut release features new music from four composers. The program bookends to slightly older pieces with new works from 2019. These are also arranged such that a single-movement work precedes a multi-movement one thus providing a sort of two-part program.

The opening of the album features a work by Paul Wiancko, Ode on a Broken Loom (2019). After a swirling opening, the different threads of the quartet are somewhat unraveled and then put back together in a fascinating, often intense, work where harmonic ideas shift from dense semi-tonal qualities to dissonance. A sort of morphed thread feels somewhat disconnected to the rest at the center with a sound that takes a page from electronic manipulation styles. It makes for an intriguing effect of many in this tight-knit piece.

Tania Leon’s Esencia (2009) introduces a variety of rhythmic patterns that add unique syncopations with their roots in Latin and Caribbean musics. The three movements feature an often-compelling melodic line that may emerge from the texture as the energy of the rhythms adds great propulsive movement. The tonal palette also blends modernism with an occasional open intervallic segment. In a way a nod to the mid-century blends of American and Latin musics that inspired composers in the 1930s. Leon’s language is more thoroughly modern though with fine dramatic shape. The final movement has some especially poignant harmonic moments. Here too one gets a sense of the music sort of seeking what might be in the future as it weaves in and out of more traditional sounds to angular writing and dissonance. It is a quite strong piece.

Fragmentation experiments that are somewhat a part of the earlier pieces form the basis of Suzanne Farrin’s conception for Undecim (2006). The smaller motivic ideas thus flit across the texture with often brutal, dense sounds that punctuate these ideas as they transfer across the ensemble. This makes the work one of the more intense pieces on the album. It also makes the appearance of a longer lyrical line a stark moment in the piece as it strives to assert itself against the fragments.

The album takes its title from the final work from 2019. It is composed by one of the group’s members, violinist Ledah Finck. In The Brink is a musical essay that tries to imagine the many crises in the world today placed into a musical setting that also includes drum set, and vocalizations (spoken, sung, and/or intoned). There are a host of string techniques that are used to add more dramatic effects to the music as well. The vocal ideas also add a bit of disorientation against the string ideas. Drum set material feels like a throwback to the protests of an earlier era, but the sounds now are even more contemporized. Out of all the works, Finck’s is the most experimental, avant-garde of the bunch.

All the pieces here are excellent examples that demonstrate the Bergamot Quartet’s artistic purpose and goals for new concert music. Each of the composers manages to create compelling pieces that come at some of these concepts in quite different ways. The music communicates these ideas well through the committed performances here. The attention to detail can be discerned throughout with a great deal of contemporary techniques demanded of the players. They perform these works in natural, and seemingly effortless way even in the midst of the more demanding technical sections. Ensemble connectedness is also on great display throughout. The recording itself also aids this with a great presence and balance between the ensemble. The final piece has a bit drier sound which somewhat aids its musical arguments. In the Brink is a strong debut album by a quartet worth keeping an ear on in the future and introducing some excellently-varied new music.


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