Cantante e tranquillo
ECM New Series
The Keller Quartett’s new recording is a collection of slow movements, recorded from 1995 to 2012. If that puts you in mind of those bloated compilations of yesteryear with titles like “Adagio” and “Classical Relaxation,” fear not: What violinist András Keller and ECM producer Manfred Eicher have created is a series of gestures in which, regardless of style or era, time is made to stand still.
The album’s title comes from the tempo marking of the third movement of Beethoven’s final quartet, two fragile recordings of which frame the program. In between come a Ligeti movement, very fast but sounding suspended in air; two excerpts from Bach’s “The Art of Fugue,” played with a ghostlike vibratoless sound; the Cavatina from Beethoven’s Quartet in B-flat (Op. 130); and some brief, inwardly focused pieces by Kurtág.
The final movement of Schnittke’s Piano Quintet (with Alexei Lubimov) is emblematic of the whole project: A lullaby-like theme is gradually layered with dissonance and a sense of tragedy, so that as it fades out, it seems drained of its innocence. It’s not unlike what happens when the Beethoven returns at the end. To my ears Keller’s way with the 20th-century works is slightly more convincing than its Bach and Beethoven. It’s the originality of its conception that makes this disc so worthwhile.
DAVID WEININGERDavid Weininger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davidgweininger.