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Seven Steps

04.04.12
Brooklyn Rider
TimeOut Chicago

By Doyle Armburst

"Brooklyn Rider’s audacious interpretation of Beethoven’s String Quartet in C-sharp minor, Op. 131, will draw disappointed frowns from classical purists. Which is one great reason to purchase the quartet’s third album, Seven Steps.

From the opening fugal line of the first movement, the Adagio, it is clear this is Beethoven through a different lens, reminiscent perhaps of fin de siècle quartets like Capet and Rosé. Here, though, the portamento (an audible slide between tones) is even, non-Romantic. It is a landscape of tonal color that at times swells into an accordion-like timbre, reedy and vibrant. Individual voices are eschewed for precisely balanced, choral exhalations.

Brooklyn Rider leads listeners to discover the restatements of the opening phrase in ways that they may not have anticipated, and hear the much-revered work afresh.

The A-side contrasts the Beethoven with two modern works. Emerging as a shadowy groove tune, the foursome’s own “Seven Steps” quickly finds its way through compelling uses of scratch tone and a Helmut Lachenmann–ian snoring sound as it transitions between pop and new-music idioms. Christopher Tignor’s “Together Into This Unknowable Night” unfolds its harmonic palette expansively, its live electronic component twittering as the strings move through melodramatic melodic passages. Sequenced together, it’s a wonderful record to challenge seasoned listeners and embrace hesitant newcomers."