Dynamic New York outfit Brooklyn Rider have quite a knack of marrying interesting takes on the mainstream canon with new commissions and their own original material. They have released four or five albums so far and the latest, A Walking Fire on the Mercury Classics label, is a cracker.

The group – Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, violins, Nicola Cords, viola, and Eric Jacobsen, cello – play with full-blooded energy but with precision as well.

This is immediately apparent from the opening work, Culei, a five-movement piece written for them by Russian-born composer and violist Lev (Ljova) Zhurbin, the son of prominent composer Alexander Zhurbin and the poet Irena Ginzburg. The work was inspired by the late Romanian Gypsy violinist Nicolae Neacsu, leader of Taraf de Haidouks, featured on the Kronos Quartet’s Caravan album. Neacsu’s trademark trick of dragging the bow across the strings for a percussive effect is a feature of the yearning “The Muse” section of the work. Other movements feature the infectious rhythms and blistering solos of the Balkan folk tradition.

At the heart of the album is an in-your-ear performance of Bartók’s String Quartet No 2 – one of the more accessible works of the six with its folk-based motifs and characteristic intensity. Although Bartók explores Debussy’s harmonic world in this quartet you can hear the Gypsy influence in the latter part of the opening movement and in the dance-like introduction to the second movement.

It sits comfortably bookended by Zhurbin’s quartet and three miniatures by Brooklyn Rider violinist Colin Jacobsen. His works were inspired by the quartet’s work on Persian music and they show him to be a talented composer.

Other albums by this inspiring group include Debussy’s quartet, Beethoven’s No 14 and a double disc of works by Philip Glass.

Glass stamped his imprimatur on the foursome by choosing them to be the first group to record his complete quartets, including the world premiere of his work Bent.

As well as recording and performing in concerts – they made their Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Centre debuts in 2011 – Brooklyn Rider also founded the Stillwater Festival seven years ago with the aim of fostering young talent and encouraging local composers.

If you like Kronos’s excursions into world music territory you will love these extremely talented New Yorkers. Check them out on YouTube playing with the great Irish fiddler Martin Hayes. They have also collaborated with Yo-Yo Ma on the Silk Road project.

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