Brooklyn Rider sounds more like the name of a rock band than a string quartet, and these four musicians also perform a bit like rock musicians. Sunday afternoon, they strode up the aisle in a chapel at Dominican University in River Forest and took up their positions in front of the attentive audience. Cellist Eric Jacobsen sat down, but the other three played standing up, sometimes swaying or exchanging smiles as they performed modern classical music with precision and power.
I first heard of Brooklyn Rider when the group backed up Persian kamancheh virtuso Kayhan Kalhor on the album called Silent City, a bracing and beautiful combination of Middle Eastern music with string quartet, which made my top 10 list for 2008. Brooklyn Rider has just released a CD titled Dominant Curve, and the quartet was in town this weekend to perform some of the compositions on that collection, as well as a few others.
The centerpiece of the CD is Claude Debussy’s String Quartet in G minor (Opus 10), and it was the climax of the concert, too. Brooklyn Rider captured the full range of the piece, from delicate pizzicato passages and soft, lyrical melodies to a vibrant section that almost made you feel like getting up to dance. Two of the other pieces in the concert (also on the CD) drew inspiration from Debussy: Uzbek composer Dimitri Yanov-Yanovskly’s “..al niente” and Brooklyn Rider violinist Colin Jacobsen’s own composition, “Achille’s Heel.”
The first half of Jacobsen’s suite was actually a trio, since the other violinist, Johnny Gandelsman, was just standing there watching as Jacobsen and violist Nicholas Cords played with bold, decisive strokes. But then Gandelsman joined in, helping the quartet to conclude “Achille’s Heel” on a lovely note, with a touch of Persian influence.
The concert also included Giovanni Sollima’s “Frederico II” from “Viaggio in Italia” and Philip Glass’ String Quartet #4 (“Buczak”). According to the concert program, Brooklyn Rider is learning all of Glass’ music for string quartets. The second movement of this piece was especially strong, with a swooning sense of motion — romantic, delirious and slightly ominous.