String Quartets by Easley Blackwood

"10/10 -- The wonderful performances are captured in sumptuous sound that embraces rather than overwhelms the listener. A truly distinguished release in every way." (

"Blackwood's quartets bracket a long and distinguished career marked by dramatic aesthetic changes . . . If you've heard the earlier installments in Cedille's continuing series, you won't need prompting to buy this one; if you've been hesitating, this is probably as good a place as any to start." (Fanfare) 

The youthful Pacifica Quartet makes its recording debut with new and vintage quartets by veteran American composer Easley Blackwood. Formed in California in 1994, and now based in Chicago, the quartet is ensemble-in-residence at the University of Chicago and the Music Institute of Chicago. The Pacifica Quartet received the coveted Naumburg Chamber Music award in 1998 and made its Naumburg-sponsored debut at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall in March 1999. Of that performance, the New York Times wrote, "Its sound, individually and as a group, is pure, lyrical, and educated . . . They all move on the same strong, supple band of time."

Blackwood's First and Second quartets are products of the same creative period as his most celebrated early modernist masterpiece, his Symphony No. 1 (1955). In the CD booklet, Blackwood describes the quartets as "largely atonal, although not violently dissonant." He says they "reveal the influence of Bartok, Berg, and Hindemith" (with whom Blackwood studied at Yale). The First Quartet received its premiere at the Berkshire Music Center in 1957 in a performance by the Kroll Quartet. The Second Quartet was premiered at the Library of Congress in 1960 by the Juilliard Quartet. "Blackwood's [second] quartet is a work of immediate beauty," the Washington Post's Paul Hume wrote on Jan. 9, 1960. "One is conscious at every point of the quartet of the [composer's] ease and personal affiliation with the medium."

By contrast, the romantically inspired Third Quartet is in "a style reminiscent of the quartets of Franck, Ravel, and Verdi," Blackwood writes. "The harmonic idiom is essentially tonal." The piece, written for the Pacifica, was premiered by the ensemble in 1998 at Chicago's "Music in the Loft" series. The Third Quartet reflects Blackwood's latter-day interest in "conservative" styles, as heard in his Cello Sonata, Fifth Symphony, and Clarinet Sonata.