Magazine article Strings

5 Minutes with Violist Paul Yarbrough of the Alexander String Quartet

Magazine article Strings

5 Minutes with Violist Paul Yarbrough of the Alexander String Quartet

Article excerpt

The Alexander String Quartet's new recording of the complete quartets of Bartok and Kodaly for self-owned Foghorn Classics, provides an ideal opportunity to compare and contrast the two composers, particularly the differences between Bartok's half dozen. I snagged violist and Alexander Quartet founding member Paul Yarbrough by phone during a break in the quartet's busy schedule to discuss the recordings. The quartet's main faculty gigs are at San Francisco State University and the Morrissey Chamber Music Center, and the Alexander is the resident ensemble with San Francisco Performances.

-Laurence Vittes

Bartok's major chamber music is such a fascinating journey, beginning with the rambling, selfconsciously romantic, 45-minute Piano Quintet in 1903.

It's amazing how modernist he would become. The first two quartets were masterful, but didn't aspire to enough. Bartok later said he was a little bit wasteful, didn't distill enough, and didn't have the economy he developed later on.

Perhaps the first sign of the stylistic change is the "Lento" third movement of No. 2, completed between 1915 and 1917.

That movement is crazy. I remember wrestling with it years ago. I was a grad student at the time, and I had a discussion with fellow quartet member who said it was such a pity that after a rousing second movement [Allegro molto capriccioso], Bartok ends the piece on a downer. I said to him, "Think about it, it was World War I and Bartok wanted to express something profound."

There's no doubt that a sea change occurred with the whole of No. 3, composed in 1927.

It's obvious that Bartok was becoming more concerned about the music as a whole: his compositional process is becoming so integrated with the formal structure that binding the whole piece together gives him his expressive oice

After No. 5, which seems to reach a modernist summit, Bartok goes even further in No. …

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