JOSEPH JONGEN – String Quartet No. 2

Marie-Alphonse-Nicolas-Joseph Jongen [1873-1953], was a Late Romantic Belgian composer who wrote three string quartets. He also composed over two hundred works in various other genres. His monumental Symphonie Concertante of 1926 is a tour de force, considered by many to be among the greatest works ever written for organ and orchestra. High praise indeed (thanks Wiki).

I am going to discuss his Second String Quartet, in C major, which was composed in 1916. This is in three movements and is performed by Quator Gong.

A solo cello opens the work with accompanying subtle violin prodding in the background. The first violin soon takes over, with a soaring, rhapsodic melody. A brief section of rhythmic chords ensues, and the first violin resumes the opening mood. Now the texture changes to a thoughtful, melodic violin, which paints a slightly melancholy picture. This is a very attractive passage. The violin slowly becomes more active, and rises in register, bringing a seriousness to the music. A recapitulation of the opening theme occurs, including the solo cello. Now the cello and violin engage in a call and response manner, with the cello alluding to the violin’s opening theme statement. This is a quite a long passage, but eventually the status quo is resumed. The music becomes darker now and the cello is again prominent. Changes in tonality drive the melody forward, and the cello responds. The work drops back to a solo violin, and then continues with minimal accompaniment. Quivering strings are heard and the cello comes forward for a time, leading to the first violin proceeding to a final chord.

The next movement, marked lento, again begins with a solo cello statement. The violins respond and the process is repeated, until a soothing mood is established by the whole ensemble. Gentle melodies abound and wrap around the cello, in a very measured manner. Now a viola motif begins and the violins change their approach, and become more prominent. Subtle changes occur in the tonality, and lead to the violin and cello investigating these changes. Next comes a rhythmic passage, where the first violin soars and propels the movement forward. A pause leads to a solo violin statement, with chordal responses from the ensemble, which then gathers forces in a new passage; the violins quietly duet in a solemn way. The ending is a fine piece of writing, with the first and second violins gently ascending to a peak. This is a wonderful movement.

The final movement opens in a brisk folk-like manner, with appropriate melodies. The tempo suddenly accelerates, with much action, before resuming the opening mood; perhaps a little busier. The music now drops back to the cello and a new feeling is initiated. This is of a more subtle nature, and the violins negotiate several changes in tonality, even from major to minor. There is tempo but the source of it is elusive, the background is so quiet. The minor mode brings a rubato feeling, which doesn’t last. A sweeping solo violin passage leads back to the opening tempo. More changes in tonality occur, but the minor eventually prevails. The violins are pleading as they converse, before providing accompaniment to a cello melody. The music becomes very positive, with the violins leading to an ensemble flourish, which concludes the work.

The review CD doesn’t appear to have a title, except for String Quartets op. 3 and op. 50. Presto Classical refer to it as Jongen : String Quartets Volume One. There is a Volume Two, so I guess it makes sense. I couldn’t find it anywhere else so it is probably headed into download territory, which I believe is what we will all have to get used to, possibly sooner than we think. Fortunately, Presto have a fine download service, offering both lossless flac, and mp3 formats. But, they say the CD is in stock at present!

This quartet is not on Spotify but can be found on YouTube. You can even read the score as you listen!

Listenability: A charming, Late Romantic work. Has a fine slow movement.

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