KATHERINE HOOVER – String Quartet No. 1

American composer and flutist Katherine Hoover [born 1937] has written at least two string quartets. Her first is in four movements.

The quartet opens in a serious manner with sparse atonal violins.Then a viola ostinato takes over, in a strange time signature. I counted it out as five-and-a-half, and I’m reliably informed that it is known as 11/8! The violins eventually drift in with their soft contributions; a melody forms. The sound cuts back to the viola with a throbbing cello for a time before the violins return. A violin flurry leads to a tempestuous violin duet where atonal phrases are freely exchanged. This gives way to a quiet section, which is tonal, and quite fetching. The violins slowly become more serious and proceed to a fluttering ending.

The next movement features a brief flourish before moving into a tempo. The viola and cello lay down a rhythmic pattern and the violins drift casually across, and around it. Static bowed strikes add to the effect.  A slightly entropic passage ensues as the violins persist, but the tempo disappears; the cello adds melodic thrusts. Now we have a dialogue between a violin and the cello, which again, displays no obvious tempo. This short movement ends on a violin thrust.

The third movement opens with an eerie, questioning violin. This evokes some answers from the ensemble. The texture is very sparse but a melody eventually emerges; it’s modal and quite engaging. Gradually a warmth evolves and the melody is complemented by the second violin, leading to a fascinating mood. The melodies are more expansive now, and brief violin flutters begin to appear. The violins sustain the atmosphere to the conclusion.

The final movement features some dynamic violin thrusts as the violins play off each other. This is atonal and quite intense. The level of abstraction rises for a time, but then drifts into a passage of string sound effects. Now a viola pizzicato provides a background for the violins’ musings. A series of vigorous thrusts leads to a heavily rhythmic pattern which eventually gives way to a probing section, where melodies are teased out against a backdrop of rhythm. As the end nears, the violins drift into the high register and we are left with a final cello note.

This is a terrific contemporary work with a moderate dash of modernistic traits. SQ No. 2, which is also on the disc, is more modern, but still appealing. I may come back to this one another time. As a bonus there is also a string trio included.

This CD, titled Hoover: String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2 : Trio, performed by the Colorado Quartet, is available on Amazon and Presto. It is also on Spotify and all tracks on the CD are on youtube.

Listenability: Serious, but ultimately rewarding.

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