Kronos Quartet Caravan

Too rarely have the Kronos Quartet been taken for what they are: usually reliable, often eccentric and occasionally brilliant interpreters of a wide spectrum of 20th century composers and traditions. Caravan is perhaps their most expansive canvas yet, encompassing Eastern European, Middle Eastern, Portuguese, Latin American and American composers in ways that aren't predictable, but also hew respectfully to the contexts in which they were written. The goat-footed, controlled-chaos of gypsy music has enjoyed a smallish vogue in recent years and Kronos clearly relish both its irrepressibly fun dervish swirls and the opportunity it affords to show off their chops with "Pannonia Boundless," by Yugoslavian Aleksandra Vrebalov, and "Turceasca," on which they enlist help from Romanian collective Taraf de Haidouks. Tabla player Zakir Hussain is another special guest, sitting on "Aaj Ki Raat," by Bollywood composer Rahul Dev Burman - more good fun. American composer Terry Riley is a familiar staple of the Kronos repertoire, and he's back with "Cortejo Funebre en el Monte Diablo," and indeed, Caravan does swing wildly in its moods, from the funereal ("Szomoru Vasarnap," or "Gloomy Sunday," which Paul Robeson referred to the "Hungarian suicide song") to the almost giddily sprightly. But the Kronos Quartet are most affecting, if not most in their element, on ineffably mournful songs like "Cancao Verdes Anos," by Portuguese composer Carlos Paredes. Once you get past the technical challenges they set for themselves and the perverse pleasure they take in undermining the potential for accessible melody from time to time, the Kronos Quartet let you in on the deep well of emotion at the heart of the composers they revere. (Nonesuch)