Dean: String Quartets – No 1 (Eclipse); No 2 ('And once I played Ophelia'); Epitaphs for string quintet

Reviewed on Tue 13 Oct, 2015

Violist and composer Brett Dean (b 1961) is an adventurous modernist, and one with a rare knack for writing accessible and engaging music.

Violist and composer Brett Dean (b 1961) is at his very best when writing for strings. As these three works demonstrate, he is an adventurous modernist, and one with a rare knack for writing accessible and engaging music. Epitaphs, for string quintet, is a series of short, sombre, but continually inventive memorial pieces. One is to Ligeti, whose influence is continually felt. The First String Quartet was written in response to a refugee crisis in Australia in 2004, and its message of compassion could hardly by more timely. String Quartet No 2 is a working sketch towards Dean’s upcoming Hamlet opera. The Quartet plays out as a mad scene with a soprano voice taking the role of Ophelia. Allison Bell is ideal for the role. She joins the superlative Doric Quartet, who are excellent throughout the disc, as does Dean himself, as second viola in Epitaphs. Ambitious and imaginative works, all given first-rate performances. Highly recommended.
–Gavin Dixon