NICOLAS BACRI – Homage to Beethoven – String Quartet No. 4

French composer Nicolas Bacri [born 1961] has currently composed nine string quartets. I am going to discuss the fourth quartet titled Homage to Beethoven. It is in three movements.

The work opens mysteriously as the cello and violin fade in and out. Slowly a melody begins to develop with the full ensemble. The viola repeats an ostinato phrase and the first violin meanders in a slightly dissonant manner. The other instruments lend support with long tones. This is a very tempting section. The music doesn’t go anywhere, it’s just a beautifully abstract feeling! The intensity increases and there are dissonant stabs. The cello comes to the fore with a strange entry, almost violent and not sounding really like a cello. Now we have peace again for a time until the violins interject with furtive phrases. The dissonance returns, together with chaos. The violins finally settle on a taut passage and there is a rush to the finish line with a sudden stop. This is a fascinating movement, Modern, but not over the top. There is not much melodic development but plenty of fine, abstract moods; music to savour.

The next movement begins with total chaos. The viola hums like a bee and the violins fly like one. Then a ruthless passage ensues with much forward propulsion, punctuated by rubato passages. Suddenly we have a direct quote from the startling opening theme of Beethoven’s Grosse Fugue Opus 133 (to be discussed at a later date). The composer employs a set of variations on this theme. The violins are virtuosic here in a very forceful passage. The Beethoven quote is repeated and the music then settles. A brief melodic interlude alternates with a dramatic section for a time. Scurrying violins set up another mysterious segment. Then the intensity returns and the violins duel in an extended passage to the end.

The final movement begins with long tones, separated by brief pauses. Not much melody here either but it is a very evocative mood. Melodies slowly begin to develop but they are simple, even child-like. After two minutes of stasis, the violins become more expressive and the pauses fall away. The music returns to the long tones and the desolate soundscape. The first violin is searching, longing, as it explores a naked melody. Another brief pause ensues. Then we are back into the previous mood. The violins sustain and the cello wanders among the murky depths of its lower register. The work concludes with the cello.

This is a wonderful quartet, filled with many alluring, abstract moods and soundscapes. It is a formidable tribute to Beethoven. I will probably revisit Bacri again in the future.

Hats off to the Psophos Quartet too, it is a riveting performance. It can be found on Amazon as a CD containing quartets 3 to 6. Some sections of these quartets are quite modern, but there are some beautifully delicate and abstract adagios in there as well.

This CD is on Spotify. There are no complete works but several quartet movements on youtube.

Listenability: Moderately challenging.

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