Altrock Chamber Quartet: Sonata Islands Goes RIO

There’s more than one string to this quartet’s bow.

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Transcribing rock music for a classical setting can be a a real challenge. Required to ape the primal energies generated by a rock group, the orchestra can often suffer from a cumbersome, unwieldy rigidity, wholly lacking the distorted fluidity or amped velocity of a rock band in full flight. This is not a criticism that can be levelled at the Altrock Chamber Quartet, who’ve taken on a series of transcriptions of works by the likes of Fred Frith, Yugen, Univers Zero and others within the loose affiliation of the Rock In Opposition movement.

This success lies partly in the proximity that RIO’s close ensembles’ occupy in relation to orchestral chamber music, ensuring that precious little vitality of the original music is lost in translation. The other critical factor stems from Giovanni Venosta’s sprightly scoring for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and on one track, piano.

Although inherently dark and sombre in nature, the 10 pieces selected here avoid being ponderous or irresolute. Indeed, a few of the structurally thorny compositions are in some cases improved upon and clarified thanks to lithe, supple arrangements and terrifically deft performances by the quartet.

Sid Smith

Sid's feature articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including Prog, Classic Rock, Record Collector, Q, Mojo and Uncut. A full-time freelance writer with hundreds of sleevenotes and essays for both indie and major record labels to his credit, his book, In The Court Of King Crimson, an acclaimed biography of King Crimson, was substantially revised and expanded in 2019 to coincide with the band’s 50th Anniversary. Alongside appearances on radio and TV, he has lectured on jazz and progressive music in the UK and Europe.  

A resident of Whitley Bay in north-east England, he spends far too much time posting photographs of LPs he's listening to on Twitter and Facebook.