Daniel S. Godfrey String Quartets

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Koch International Classics: KIC CD 7573

The Godfrey Quartet CD on Koch was chosen in the New Yorker as one of 2004's best eleven CDs:

"The lyrical spirit of Borodin and early Stravinsky [filtered] through an elegantly patrician modern style."

It seems apt that an ensemble named after American painter Mary Cassatt should take up these neo-Impressionist quartets by Daniel S Godfrey (b1949). ctually, not knowing a note of Godfrey's music, my interest in this disc was initially piqued by the presence of the Cassatts themselves, whose playing I greatly admire. But what wonderful quartets these are! The refined use of colour and variegated texture in Godfrey's work frequently bring Debussy and Ravel to mind (and sometimes Janacek and Sibelius), but whatever the apparent influences are, they have all been absorbed into a distinctive musical language that's as remarkable for its consistency as for its craftsmanship. The Romanza, for example, was composed in 1974 as the slow movement of the First Quartet, yet plainly comes from the same pen as the Second (1993) and Third Quartets (2001).

Indeed I found myself beguiled on first hearing, then wanting to listen again and again. This appeal stems partly from the music's strong melodic profile, but what makes me so eager to return is the rich ambiguity of the harmonies with their often subtle play of light and shade. Listen to the dark radiance of the Second Quartet's central Adagietto, or the brighter though still flickering flames of the Third Quartet's Reverie. Godfrey masterfully controls harmonic tension to propel the music forward from phrase to phrase, paragraph to paragraph, and ultimately establish structural solidity over the course of an entire movement. The 13-minute Elegy that opens the Third Quartet, for instance, has a compelling narrative sweep that belies its expansiveness.

Superbly polished and passionately committed performances by the Cassatt Quartet (despite changes in personnel) help make Godfrey's music an exciting and immensely satisfying discovery. Rumour has it that a disc of chamber music is forthcoming from members of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Definitely something to look forward to.
(Gramophone Magazine, Fall 2004 awards edition)

Godfrey is the proponent of one of the most interesting tonal styles around. His string works are filled with lyrical, often melancholic, frequently beautiful melodies that, as longtime friend Harlow Robinson opines in the liner notes, are always marked by some kind of twist, a fact that has led critics to compare Godfrey to Ravel and Debussy (Robinson likens his old friend to a young Stravinsky)...the Romanza...is pure poetry, passionately played by the stellar Cassatt Quartet, and should win you over as a fan of composer and quartet alike.
(Strings Magazine, November 2004)

If Debussy and Ravel had lived in the late 20th Century, they would have produced string quartets which sound like Godfrey's.
(Records International, April 2004)

The three works for string quartet show [Godfrey] to be a skillful and interesting member of the so-called new romantic school. Godfrey's two quartets are opulent tonal works. But despite the lush harmony, the luxuriant string concords, the lyricism and warmth of the music often gentle and dolce, pastoral, or contemplative, other times rapturous or impassioned it has a strong individual character, immediately obvious from the arresting and beautiful opening of the Second Quartet - Godfrey hears the ensemble as a single (if complex) instrumental voice that speaks in blended, liquid, seamless legato stanzas built of subtle, delicately nuanced vertical sonorities. Loving performances by the Cassatt Quartet. Koch's sumptuous recording.
(American Record Guide, September 2004)

Godfrey's quartets are solidly composed works. These are satisfying, expressive, well crafted pieces. They are right in the wheelhouse of the Cassatt Quartet, whose members play marvelously, with passion and precision."
(Fanfare, September/October 2004)

Daniel S. Godfrey is a baby boomer who has worked through the serialism he was taught in school to emerge as a composer who's not afraid to have words like lush and lyrical applied to his work. His String Quartet No. 2, String Quartet No. 3 and Romanza all demonstrate both complexity and beauty of writing. He seems to have a gift for chamber music; his writing for string quartet is frequently exquisite.
(St. Louis Post Dispatch, July 25, 2004)

Track Listings:
1. String Quartet No. 2: Moderato
2. String Quartet No. 2: Adagietto
3. String Quartet No. 2: Presto
4. String Quartet No. 3: Mesto, poco rubato (Elegy)
5. String Quartet No. 3: Allegretto (Reverie)
6. String Quartet No. 3: Agitato - Molto vivace
7. Romanza