EZRA LADERMAN – String Quartet No. 8

Ezra Laderman [1924-2015) was an American composer who wrote twelve string quartets. Judging from the quartets that I have heard, his style is Modern, and very diverse. It’s also generally extremely busy, with many mood changes; generally some of which he returns to, during a work.

String Quartet No. 8, in one movement, is a dark, brooding work, quite unlike most of Laderman’s other quartets. It opens with foreboding, gentle string sounds. A violin investigates an atonal melody against this wonderful abstract background. Soon both violins are  using the technique of bowing a note, and then sliding their fingers down the fingerboard, leading to notes that descend in a smeared manner; I believe this technique is called glissando. Now one violin quivers and a crescendo occurs, with sharp interjections in between peaceful moments.

The violins and cello play in a random fashion for a time, which is quite intriguing. A more powerful mood emerges, although it is not loud. This is reminiscent of some of John Tavener’s string quartet writing. There is a lot of dissonance as the music drops back to quiet atonal chords. Now the violins re-enter in an abstract fashion, leading to a virtuosic solo violin and ensemble thrust. The cello is prominent here, and plays in a racing tempo. This gives way to a fascinating descending chromatic section. More atonality follows, and the dynamics are very changeable. The cello thrusts, and the violin answers.

A fascinating passage follows with the violins jousting, both in a high register. This is quickly followed by a crescendo, which leads to another atonal, chordal passage. The mood here is transcendent, completely abstract expressionism. The mood softens but the atonality persists, with the two violins going at it as if their lives depended on it. Now the cello has a solo part, deep in the low register. A solo violin takes over, until the second violin begins to contribute gentle harmonies. The solo cello returns and formulates a rhythmic motif which is dominant, even though the violins continue in the background.

A quiet pizzicato section ensues, and leads into another atonal pastiche, with the cello again pressing. The violins gradually build the intensity almost to a frenzy as they scurry about with scattered melodies. Then the opening mood returns, with gentle atonality. Melodies become longer, and the dark background is just magnificent. A more conservative section is now heard, which then builds into a brief crescendo, followed by some string sound effects.

As we near the end, the violins conjure up a previously unheard mood, with pizzicato underlying the work of the violins. Now they set a racing tempo with atonality again prevailing. This leads into a false ending, followed by a handful of notes, and the piece concludes on a chord.

This is a fascinating work, Modern but never grating, with a high level of abstraction and atonality, together with a great deal of diversity in texture. I will surely be revisiting this composer in the future.

Six of his string quartets are available; they happen to be the later ones. The review copy, titled Music of Ezra Laderman – Vol. 3 by the Cassatt Quartet is on Amazon US and UK, Presto has it as a download. Only String Quartet No. 2 is on Spotify but there are many quartets on YouTube.

Listenability: Fascinating Modern quartet, featuring many different moods.

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