Including older and contemporary works on the same program is nothing new. But two string quartets took such era-spanning perspectives to fresh heights this year.
Brooklyn Rider had the temerity to sequence new pieces between the movements of Beethoven’s Opus 132 on their double-disc set “Healing Modes.” And the Spektral Quartet’s digital-only double album, “Experiments in Living,” invited listeners to hit “shuffle” on their streaming service of choice. (Alternately, one could use the group’s specially designed tarot cards to determine a new sequence during each listen.)
On Brooklyn Rider’s album, the playing of Beethoven’s tender slow movement seemed to gain additional poignancy when coming after detours into the sounds of today’s avant-garde from composers like Du Yun and Matana Roberts.
On one randomized tour through Spektral’s playlist, I was astonished to discover how some of the players’ darting articulations during the first movement of Brahms’s String Quartet No. 1 proved a perfect appetizer for the serrated edges of Sam Pluta’s “binary/momentary logics: flow state/joy state.”
You can, of course, go through both albums such that every work proceeds in its correct order. But these scrambled yet crisply played recordings also manage to suggest that different eras and styles might have something useful to offer each other.