"Seasonal" Music for String Quartet
Seasons Benda Quartet Navona 6407 Total Time: 30:59 Recording: ****/**** Performance: ****/****
Composer John Mitchell (1941-) has a rich and varied catalogue of work for keyboard, chamber ensemble, opera, and some 400 (!) art songs. The present release features four quartets that each are musical snapshots of the seasons. It is not quite clear if these are one work, our four thematically-connected pieces, though each could easily stand on its own as a single concert work.
The album opens with an exciting and energetic rhythmic pattern and depicts the many moods of “Spring”. This energy seems to have the distant echo of Vivaldi’s famous set of concertos with a parallel program. Mitchell creates a series of episodes here that move us through the many moods of spring. Melodic lines float across the textures here with some exciting motivic rhythms helping to create an overarching unity to the piece. Some of that energy continues into “Summer”, though here the sound feels more muted. Cello and viola statements add an appropriately warm tone to the music here. “Autumn” has a bit of this style that carries over into its opening moments before pizzicato ideas start to hint at the shift in the weather. Differences in attacking of notes greets us in “Winter.” The music seems to have a little chillier feel as it moves through the darkening days of this season.
The Benda Quartet perform this work with a great deal of dedication. Mood switches are captured well and they create a quite gorgeous tone for Mitchell’s beautiful lyrical moments. The pieces have the sense of a stroll down a path in the different themes. Repeated listening will find that certain lines and motives appear across the work with variants that help demonstrate how these ideas are transformed in each season of the year. The quite tonal work is quite accessible and a fine introduction to Mitchell’s chamber music.
The album is available on streaming services and can also be purchased as a download, or in a physical blister pack.