Breton composer Guy Ropartz [1864-1955] wrote six string quartets. These were composed from 1893 to 1949, yet, to me they show no evidence of stylistic development, or for that matter, any stylistic influences. There may be a slight debt to the French Impressionists but there are very few melancholic passages in his work, and they are brief. Here is a man with a personal style, which is to be admired. I shall discuss quartets Nos. 4 and 5.
The Fourth Quartet starts with a flourish but soon moves into a period of strong melodic statements. These are particularly attractive, with a rustic charm. The music is conservative, but very elegant. The violins negotiate several harmonic changes as they constantly put forward positive melodies. It does, in some ways, feel like the kind of music that one would write when raised in a small locale. Towards the end, the melodies have a poignancy not previously noticed.
A pizzicato line introduces the second movement, which allows the violins to again fashion their rustic melodies. There is an intensity here that is not in the first movement. A pause reintroduces some marvellous melodies, leading to a section of double-time which is quite exhilarating. Again, as we approach the end, the passage has a feeling all of its own, with the cello leading to a slight, but effective arpeggio. After a brief melodic passage, the movement ends on a flourish.
The third movement is slow, and commences with a probing cello, coupled with a searching violin line. The cello continues to probe as the violins tease out beautiful overlapping melodies, with minimal accompaniment. The interplay between the violins and cello is terrific. Now the cello feeds out short phrases, allowing the violins to meander; the cello is wonderful here. Slowly the intensity drops, leading to a conclusion.
The final, short movement is energised, and the cello follows the lead of the violins, with discrete phrases. The violins continue with brisk melodies that abound with joy, and there is a constant interplay with the cello. The end approaches with haste and again ends on a flourish.
The Fifth Quartet opens with an oh, so brief, sense of dissonance, but this is dissolved in an instant. The violins construct a rhythmic passage which eventually settles into a period of rubato. A playful section follows and the composer’s characteristic melodies come into play. A prolonged period of busy melodies, made up of short notes, gives way to a more static section. Here the melodies are refined, and they drop in intensity altogether, as they move towards a peaceful conclusion.
A very brief second movement, marked adagio, is a relief from the previous activity. It is very precious as the violins interact with the cello. It ceases on a chord at 1:47, which also happens to be the length of the fourth movement.
The third movement opens in a positive manner, which is now becoming a familiar pattern. The violins are very expressive here. They are interrupted by a brief passage, in a slow tempo, featuring one violin lamenting, as the ensemble respond in kind. Suddenly, the bright feeling returns and the violins become quite loud as they stretch out in an emphatic manner. A cello interlude closes the movement.
The next movement, as previously stated, is brief and is also an adagio. This is most tender, and the cello contributes beguiling phrases, as the violins craft long melodies. It is so short, it seems to be over before it started.
The final movement is again positive, and violins float over an intermittent pizzicato backing. The melodies are more stately than I have noticed before, and they have much to offer. The composer’s unique style is definitely on show here. A more measured mood is established but does not last. Again, melodic movement prevails and the end is a joyous one, with a flourish from the violins.
The Ropartz string quartets are on a series of three CDs by the Stanislas Quartet. The review copy is titled Ropartz String Quartets Volume 2, and all three discs are available on Presto and Amazon US, but not UK, which tells me that these discs are not long for this world! All of the quartets are on Spotify and there are many quartet movements on YouTube.
Listenability: Uniquely personal and joyful Late Romantic works, with a dash of Modernism.
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