2009: A Good Year for Music

by Robert R. Reilly - 12/28/09

I don't want to bid the year farewell without recognizing another enterprising "American Classics" CD from Naxos. This one contains String Quartets Nos. 1, 5, and 6 by Benjamin Lees (b. 1924), rivetingly performed by the Cypress String Quartet (8.559628). I do not know much about this man's music, which is why I am so deeply grateful to Naxos for the introduction. Now I want to know more. These are extraordinary, deeply thoughtful, intellectually intriguing, intense chamber works that so fit their medium that they seem quintessential. I am not at all surprised that Chamber Music America chose Quartet No. 5 as one of the 101 Great Ensemble Works. If you have made it past the Britten and Shostakovich quartets, here are works that will fully engage you. Lees does not offer sensuous surface appeal, but the depth is there. The latter two quartets were written in the 21st century. Obviously, Lees is working full steam ahead at the top of his game.