ALEKSANDER LASOŃ – Unique Modern Music – SQ No. 1

Polish composer Aleksander Lasoń [born 1951] has written at least seven string quartets. He is Modern, but in a delightfully cerebral manner. I am going to discuss his First String Quartet.

The work opens with sustained notes, featuring a smattering of microtones. The cello drones and then interjects. The violins express no melodic development. It sounds mildly like air-raid sirens. Sometimes a sustained note soars into the high register. After a brief pause, the feeling returns, this time evoking Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, mainly due to the use of glissando. A rhythmic moment ensues, but it doesn’t last and the violins continue with their musings. Suddenly we have a loud episode of block chords, featuring all instruments; they are mostly sustained notes.  When they stop, a lone violin delivers up a gentle phrase to finish.

What do you say about music that just ‘is’? It’s a magnificent soundscape, I really enjoyed it.

The second movement sounds more like a string quartet, albeit a little chaotic. All instruments have an equal voice in this random, atonal section. Now a rise in tempo brings about a change, although the entropy is still high. Violins concoct strange melodies that overlap with each other. The tempo is moderated, but the random feeling persists. Then follows a quiet, almost hymn-like sound; this is stunning, so introspective. Now some harmonised violin lines are heard, negotiating slow, sometimes ethnic scales as they craft melodies. A scurrying moment leads us back into the full-on chaos. This is reminiscent of the beginning, sounding like purely random music.

The final movement opens with strong sustained notes and is much more conservative than the first two movements. These are real melodies, with changes in harmony leading to some interesting note selections. It reminds me of the theme statement of Miles Davis’ treatment of Joe Zawinul’s In A Silent Way. They inhabit a similar sound space. There is a longing feeling here, the key feature being the sustained notes, they are every effective. The piece gently winds down for a time, with a minimal sound. There are also glissandos featured, making for a very soulful sound. One violin concludes the work. This is a beautiful mood.

This quartet contains the three elements that make up music: melody, harmony and rhythm. However I am sure some people wouldn’t see it that way. I just love the measured, atonal chaos, and the deep feeling of the final movement.

The Third Quartet opens with a loud note and then moves into a period of stasis, where the two violins play slow, and long sustained melodies. Now an abrupt interjection of notes occurs, before moving into further slow melodies. This passage does not have the intensity of the First Quartet, but features sparser melodies. The interjections occur sporadically, but the music always returns to its predominant feeling, one of desolate landscapes. Now the violins intensify, with a strong attack of their bows, and notes in the high register. Several interjections interrupt proceedings, but the feeling keeps coming back. There is tension now, with the violins exploding into action. A solo violin and a flourish lead to the end.

The second movement begins aggressively; the violins being particularly so. Now they recede to a position of a duet, quite dramatically. The mood darkens as the violins spin out disparate melodic lines with a rhythmic intensity. After a time, a brief solo cello statement occurs, which leads to a chaotic violin conclusion.

The next movement is 68 seconds long. Opening very slowly, it appears to consist of a series of random notes. It ends on a descending glissando. Just a point about the opening of this movement; it was so soft as to be inaudible. I processed it with a sound file editor. For the technically minded, I had to increase the level by 12 dB and it was still soft.

The final movement is again short and after a forceful chord, the tempo basically races with a rhythmic motif to support it. It’s all about the rhythm here. Violins skim across the top but the ensemble is dominant. There are many harmonic changes until it concludes.

Lason is basically very modern and I don’t think I’ve heard anything like his music before. The nearest would be Terry Riley’s Salome Dances for Peace.

The review CD, Aleksander Lasoń: String Quartets Nos. 1, 3, and 7, performed by the Silesian String Quartet on the Pro Bono label is only available as an MP3 download from Amazon US and UK. A second disc of his string quartets suffers from the same fate.

The review CD is on Spotify and YouTube. All of the quartets can be heard on earsense.

Listenability: Very modern and mildly confronting, but I like it.


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