Review Compilation: Ben Johnston CD 1

BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE | December 2010, Five Stars
Here’s Vol. 1 of the Kepler Quartet’s projected series of Ben Johnston’s string quartets. His music certainly deserves wider attention, as it inhabits an expressive world that fascinates the ear and heart long after one comes to grips with its provocative theoretical framework. The Second and Third Quartets are like the love children of Milton Babbitt and William Byrd. Their clear narrative carries over into the Fourth and Ninth Quartets- the former is a set of variations on “Amazing Grace” that progresses from restrained viol consort to ecstatic Brucknerian counterpoint in just over ten minutes, while the Ninth applies some startling temperamental shifts to classical and romantic idioms. Music for the heart.

BANGKOK POST | June 2007
A compelling case… Any listener will find themselves in gorgeous new musical territory. The ease with which the ear understands the radically untraditional harmonic writing testifies to Johnston’s fluency in his very special compositional language. The performances here by the Kepler Quartet are impassioned, and the degree to which the players have mastered the exotic tunings to the point where the chords glisten and flash is something to marvel at.

Paris Transatlantic | August 2006
This is the first disc devoted to the complete string quartets (ten of them) of Ben Johnston, all superbly performed by the Kepler Quartet and accompanied by a perceptive and informative essay by musicologist Bob Gilmore. Let’s hope Gilmore is right when he states that Johnston’s time has come.

All Music Guide | 2006
This is music of great integrity, startling vitality, and striking originality, yet it is virtually unknown. A cross between homespun American populism and sophisticated experimentation of the avant-garde… The Kepler Quartet is so compelling in its performances that these radiant recordings should be regarded as authoritative.

Fanfare | July/August 2006
With this kind of advocacy, the music has more than just a chance of survival; instead, it seems that it must survive…a triumph, and a joy to know the remaining quartets are already in the pipeline.

Cambridge Journal TEMPO | October 2006
The company of American composers includes some number who, even though they might be justly described as legendary, are much more likely to have been heard of than to have been heard. Ben Johnston is a case in point. His work concentrates on the beautiful sonorities made possible by tuning intervals exactly according to the overtone series. The performances of Kepler Quartet are luminously sonorous and completely masterly. Two of these quartets have been recorded previously, but neither with anything like the same quality of performance or of recording quality.

Detroit Free Press | March 2006
One of the unsung geniuses of American music. Johnston’s music is fresh, colorful, communicative, witty, unpredictable and profoundly human. It is also far more difficult to play than it sounds, so God bless the Kepler Quartet , which has undertaken the Herculean task of recording Johnston’s 10 string quartets.

Strings Magazine | October 2006
Johnston employs just intonation to create a surreal dreamscape –The Kepler Quartet is a world-class ensemble, with the ability to play modern without sounding gimmicky or contrived.

The Wire | April 2006
Plain old C major never sounded like this before, and neither has the string quartet.

Article published in Chamber Music | August 2006
Now that the Kepler Quartet is undertaking the formidable task of recording his complete ten string quartets, it’s becoming public that Johnston, who just turned 80, has penned the most substantial output in that medium since Shostakovich.

American Record Guide | May/June 2006
If this first release is representative, this will be one of the most important new-music recordings of the year.

Records International | March 2006
This is a release of great significance. Johnston’s cycle of string quartets are works of immense interest. The inventiveness of the works on this disc alone suggest that Johnston is one of the major figures of American music in our time.