NIKOLAI MYASKOVSKY – A Second Look – SQ No. 11

Russian composer Nikolai Yakovlevich Myaskovsky [1881-1950] wrote thirteen string quartets. I reviewed his first in February 2017. Unusually, there is no great divergence of style between the two works, although they were many written years apart. I guess you could call that conservative.  String Quartet No. 11 was written in 1945 and is in three movements.

The work opens with a charming melodic section, which is developed for a time. The mood changes slightly and there are murmurings from the ensemble as the violin leads it into a slightly abstract passage. There is a wonderful duet violin line in there, which leads to a mood similar to the texture of the beginning. A four-note theme is put through its paces and out of this comes that amazing duet harmony again. Then the violin alludes to the opening melody and a graceful period ensues. Now the texture becomes one of call and response with the violin and ensemble trading melodic phrases. The four-note motif returns, giving the passage impetus until the end beckons, and the violin fades the movement out.

The next movement, marked andante, commences with the violin working one note until it breaks into some variations. The cello rises above the ensemble for a moment and a chordal passage follows. The violins pick up on a stilted melodic line, which progresses into a graceful passage. Now the mood intensifies with slight chaos being the order of the day. Suddenly the music briefly jumps into life until the violin returns with a longing melody. This is sustained for a few minutes and the mood is slightly dark, before another distinctive chordal passage returns. A brief crescendo introduces a quiet section. The end is a sustained chord.

The final movement begins with a brief, but thoughtful passage which morphs into some rhythmic playing. The violin performs a virtuosic, but gentle, (if that’s possible) line before it returns to the opening theme. This is continued for a time until a shimmering passage ensues. The ensemble sounds very full here and contains some appealing melodies. A tempo is established which evokes the beginning again. The composer certainly feeds on this melody. The conclusion comes slowly.

As to availability, I will reiterate on what I said previously. There are five individual CDs containing the complete quartets performed by the Taneyev Quartet. Volume 4 contains SQs Nos. 9, 10 and 11. They can all be found on Amazon US and UK. String Quartet No. 11 is on Spotify and there are a handful of various quartet movements on YouTube.

Listenability: Conservative but ultimately lush, lovely quartet.

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