ADRIAN JACK – The Third String Quartet

British Contemporary composer Adrian Frederick Joseph Jack, [born 1943] wrote six string quartets. The first two were apparently recorded by the Smith Quartet and are no longer available – the rest are on a CD by the Arditti Quartet.

I am fascinated by this work. The composer makes extensive use of ostinati, but they function as a harmonic device, rather than the more common rhythmic approach. This is especially evident in the Third Quartet.

The first movement, marked Floating, opens with a two-note, two-voice ostinato and a slightly scratchy, but expansive violin melody is presented. Very early in the piece the ostinato changes harmonically, and often after that, allowing the rather shrill violin to search for melodies to match the constant harmonic variation. This is all at a relatively low dynamic until it is interrupted by a loud confronting harmonised phrase which seems to come out of nowhere. However the status quo is soon resumed. There now appears to be two melodic voices which intertwine with great subtlety. After a period of melodic stasis, the ostinato ceases and the two melodic voices express several longer, sustained harmonised phrases. This leads to a pause and another loud, brief but confronting ensemble passage. Its intensity is matched by its brevity and we are back to further ostinati and more expressive violin duo phrases. Finally a dynamic extended ensemble flourish leads to a sharp stop.

The next movement, marked Fast, (it isn’t), contains of series of drifting melodies of more ostinati, which this time are of a rhythmic, atonal nature. The music is shared by all instruments, with the accompaniment being as prominent as the jerky melodies. This brief movement ends in a similar manner to the previous, with a long, disjointed passage of discordant sounds, which finishes abruptly.

The final movement is familiar territory to me. Long melodic tones expound over a cello and viola drone at an adagio tempo. A degree of tension is built, sometimes bordering on great beauty as the long tones gently move the music forward. Subtle harmonised violin lines are filled with deep feeling, leaving me with a sense of wonder – these are the kind of sounds that I was born to listen to.

A change presents an almost pastoral, but atonal mood. The now familiar, this time gentle, ostinato feeling is carried by the cello in a magnificent passage of intertwining sounds. Suddenly, the music erupts in a similar manner to the brash episodes of the first two movements. This time, it is for a prolonged period, in a circular manner as the music constantly refers back to itself. A brief pause leads to more ensemble outbursts and a final dynamic flourish.

It is most unusual for me to discuss a composer whose quartets you can’t experience, but I couldn’t find them anywhere. I obtained them in 2010, possibly from Spotify. All I can do is praise these wonderful works. They are available to purchase, at a reasonable price on Amazon UK and as New and Used, at a higher price on Amazon US.

Listenability: Intriguing, atypical British quartets.


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