American-born composer and longtime French resident, Tom Johnson (b.1939), served as The Village Voice’s influential music critic from 1971 to 1983 covering the era’s exciting new classical music scene. The first to apply the term “minimalist music,” Johnson’s personal compositional style leans toward minimalist formalism. Quatuor Bozzini has collected his complete works for string quartet covering four compositions from 1994 to 2009 on this album.
Dwelling on mathematic sequences and permutations of a limited core musical material, in Johnson’s hands the musical whole emerges satisfyingly greater than the sum of its lean components and intellectual procedures. Each relatively brief movement vibrates like a sonic poem. For example, the opening six-note motif of Johnson’s Tilework for String Quartet (2003) is transformed through his exploration of the myriad ways in which lines are “tiled using six-note rhythms,” relying on a computerized list of rhythmic canons. The composer helpfully adds, “Of course, composers, performers, and listeners don’t have to know all of this, just as we don’t need to master counterpoint to appreciate a Bach fugue… [because] music allows us to directly perceive things that we could never grasp intellectually.”
Performed senza vibrato, Quatuor Bozzini renders these scores with virtuoso precision along with warmth and a subtle lyricism, a winning combination I grew to appreciate after repeated listening.