O’Connor takes on two American traditions, bluegrass and old-time music, and turns them into abstract string quartets.
Violinist and composer Mark O’Connor is a musical deconstructionist. He takes big musical themes and breaks them down into small components that he manipulates in modern and heartfelt ways. On his most recent disc, Quartets No.'s 2 & 3, O’Connor takes on two American traditions, bluegrass and old-time music, and turns them into abstract string quartets, resembling something Aaron Copeland might have created during the 1950s in their formal combination of robust vitality and folk motifs. Echoes of melodies repeat themselves to create hooks but always dissipate rather than move to a climax.
At times, it sounds metaphorically like O’Connor and company (Ida Kavafian, violin; Paul Neubauer, viola, and Matt Haimowitz, cello) are playing their respective stringed instruments with straw push brooms. The music seems brushed more than bowed except when someone takes a solo. Each of the players is a master musician. O’Connor’s quartets allow them to show off their virtuosity, but in the end, it’s the quality of the two quartets that matters most, and they are both damned good.