This review appeared in the December 2008 US edition of Gramophone Magazine.
Here's a fascinating amalgam of recent works for string quartet. All of the composers hail from — or have worked extensively in countries around the Pacific Rim. Although they represent different cultures and musical vantage-points, their identification with specific regional elements binds them here as an artistic community.
Each of the nine pieces that the Del Sol String Quartet perform on their new release, "Ring of Fire" — a reference to volcanoes surrounding the Pacific — vividly reflects a distinctive compositional perspective. Kui Dong's Spring brings to mind Vivaldi's famous paean to nature as it pays deft, delicate tribute to minimalism. In his fiercely dramatic and spiky Spiral X – “In Memoriam", Chinary Ung evokes genocide in the quartet's instrumental and vocal wailing and whistling.
The myriad string techniques Zhou Long employ in Song of the Ch’in give haunting voice to the music's Chinese soundscape, which abounds in vehement and glistening details. John Adams's animated freshness of texture pervades the brief Toot Nipple, a stark contrast to the despairing beauty of Peter Sculthorpe's Yearning (the third movement of his String Quartet No 16), with roots in a central Afghanistan love song.
The San Francisco-based Del Sol String Quartet are masters of all musical things they survey on this disc, playing with a combination of ferocious attack, riveting interplay and silken splendour. They end as quietly as possible in an improvisation, What Remains, an exploration of delicate instrumental and vocal colors.