ALBERT ROUSSEL – The String Quartet

French Late Romantic composer Albert Charles Paul Marie Roussel [1869-1937] wrote only one string quartet. It is in four movements and is quite lively, with three movements in an allegro tempo.

This work opens with an ever so slightly dissonant mood, quite rhythmic, which is soon transformed into a charming, free-flowing phase. The violin is very lyrical while the ensemble provides all manner of musical colour in accompaniment. A recapitulation of an earlier theme ensues, but the intensity soon drops. The violin crafts a serious melody for a time, followed by cello and ensemble interjections. Now the violin returns to lyrical and is a little serious as it reverts to an earlier melody. The accompaniment becomes quite hectic with strong rhythmic statements from the ensemble. It ends on one of these statements.

The next movement, an adagio, develops a classic Romantic feeling from the start. A poignant violin melody leads into an even more poignant ensemble. This develops into a slightly pastoral feeling; very European. The first violin expresses a so-soft melody and the ensemble can scarcely be heard, it’s just a harmonic drone. Now the cello steps forward to contribute its own variation on the mood. The music is just so sparse, until the violins lift in intensity for the first time in this movement. They soon return to the default subdued feeling, and the violins fade to a close.

The third movement begins in a jaunty, loping manner as the violins happily exchange melodic ideas. A section of pizzicato provides interest until a change comes over the piece. A serious moment leads to a return of the opening festivities. This is a very short movement.

The finale opens with a solo violin, soon to be joined by a second; then the ensemble enters. This is a strange mood; it is moderately intense, but there doesn’t appear to be a tempo. A brief pause finds a solo violin conveying a lamenting melody over a measured, but scurrying ensemble. There is a lot of pleasant chaos going on, and the cello institutes a passage of chordal interjections. This movement features many changes of emphasis and texture, as it leads the listener through various moods. A very brisk moment has the violins conversing, and a pizzicato cello has a brief role to play. It ends on a sharp chord.

It seems that this work is not particularly popular but it is featured 27 times on Amazon UK. The obvious version to recommend is by the Via Nova Quartet which also contains string quartets by Chausson and Magnard. Interestingly, these three composers are all members of the French One String Quartet Club, which I believe I have almost exhausted by now. I discussed Chausson in July 2016. Magnard will have to wait.

This disc is on Spotify, and can also be found on YouTube.

Listenability: Quite a conservative work for its time. Very pleasant.

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