This pairing of three works for string quartet and orchestra—including the world recording premiere of both Michael Abels’ Delights & Dances and Randall Craig Fleischer’s richly crafted arrangement of Leonard Bernstein’s popular West Side Story—is one of the most beautiful, most lively discs of modern music to come down the pike this year.
The program also includes Benjamin Lees’ complex four-movement Concerto for string quartet and orchestra, and An-Lun Huang’s spry Saibei Suite No. 2, an audience favorite at the Chicago Sinfonietta’s concerts.
Abels’ scintillating single-movement work opens with a gorgeous, warm, bluesy cello passage. The music overall sports a blues theme and is rife with jazz inflections, playfully shifting rhythms, and folksy melodies. The orchestral music is performed sublimely by the vastly underrated Chicago Sinfonietta with the Harlem Quartet (Ilmar Gavilan and Melissa White, violins; Juan-Miguel Hernandez, viola; and Paul Wiancko, cello). The piece was written expressly for the Harlem Quartet.
The Lees piece also has frequent shifts in meter and uses unusual meters (7/8 and 5/4) to push the music in frenzied fashion.
Fleischer’s challenge in arranging the West Side Story Concerto for strings was to remain true to Bernstein’s jazzy masterwork while juxtaposing the romance and violence of the original libretto and score.
The Harlem Quartet is exemplary, delivering staccato stabs and lush legato.