It is said, mostly by back-fence philosophers, that there is nothing new under the sun. That is, of course, hogwash, at least artistically speaking, but to listen to the music by American composers that the New World String Quartet played at the Library of Congress last night, one might suspect that there was some truth in the old cliche'.
Quartets by Arthur Foote and Hall Overton and a piano quintet by John Alden Carpenter paid homage to a whole pantheon of musical immortals, chewing over the old familiar Debussy, Schubert, even Bach formulas like rather complacent bovines. The music spanned the first 60 years of this century and reflected a comfortable acceptance of what came before, but sadly, no fresh ideas, no point of view and very little personality.
Overton's one-movement Quartet No. 3 written in 1967 in a chromatic but essentially tonal idiom comes packaged in a structure that moves from simplicity to complexity and back again, and explores a clean opening harmonic idea without taking it very far.
Pianist Jerome Rose joined the ensemble for the Carpenter Quintet and provided the most interesting moments of the concert with his excitingly phrased opening chords. He plays with conviction and, refreshingly, was able to inject his own personality into the music. The string performances were sturdy and well thought out but not very exciting.