French Modern Contemporary composer Andre Boucourechliev [1925–1997] appears to have written at least one numbered string quartet and several other named works for the genre. It was difficult to garner much information about these works and there seems to be just one CD containing string quartet pieces. I intend to discuss Miroir II from 1989 and Quartet III, from 1994. There is also an early work, from 1969 on the CD, Archipel II.
Miroir II, subtitled Five Pieces for String Quartet, consists mainly of a series of brief, abstract soundscapes, some of which are quite alluring.
One – A superb opening features sparse, atmospheric instrumental lines that portray a feeling of great emotional depth. Sensuous violins are joined by the cello, which increases the intensity somewhat. A more dramatic moment ensues, as a sense of dissonance moves to a turbulent end.
Two – Again, a sensitive passage leads to another atmospheric section. At a low volume, the slightly abstract musings of the violins are interrupted only by occasional string sound effects – eventually, these effects become the music. Now an intensity develops as the use of microtones lead to a feeling of angst. This is extremely modern music, and sometimes quite confronting. Minimal snatches of music coexist with jagged interjections. The end is an abstract, throwaway line.
Three – A wonderful, sparse, introspective mood initiates this movement – I find great beauty here. A feeling of warmth builds with the cello providing a sonorous background to the atonal musings of the violins. After a brief pause, the opening mood is re-examined, with barely audible violin tones. Now an aggressive cello completely transforms the work into a series of grating rhythmic phrases until the previous mood is revisited to marvellous effect, leading to a quiet conclusion.
Four – A mood of total peace introduces this rather short movement. The sound of a drone-like effect allows a series of wonderfully atonal violin lines to be presented. An increase in intensity brings the cello to the forefront before a brief aggressive interlude leads directly into the next movement.
Five – With the previous mood continued, a very dramatic passage unfolds. Cello and violin dig deep into their lowest registers as a certain peace is restored. The introduction of a loud ostinato motif leads to another intense passage, which lasts for some time before a slow fade concludes the work.
The one movement Third Quartet is quite brief, at just under 12 minutes. Beginning with a very low and resonant solo cello, it gradually works its way into the upper register, evoking memories of John Tavener’s The Protecting Veil. After nearly two minutes, a violin blends with the cello, creating a wonderful sense of unity. With a feeling of inevitability, this soon changes and string sound effects emerge for a time, before reverting back to the former duet character. This is followed by a striking passage of intermittent atonal melodic lines from all instruments, which gradually returns to silence.
Now two violins engage in a moderately atonal duet, with pizzicato cello interjections – the feeling is one of pure abstraction. A return to string sound effects at a moderate dynamic level has the music oscillating between passages of sparse violin lines, contrasted with the more dramatic, previously mentioned atonal mood. A chaos emerges with one violin bowing intensely over a sustained tone played by the second violin. As the end approaches, the sound is that of a barely audible violin in its upper register – a very lonely feeling concludes the work.
A couple of comments seem in order. Firstly, some parts of this music are quite daunting, while other sections inspire a great sense of abstract beauty – such is the way of the Contemporary string quartet repertoire. Secondly, the piece Archipel II, which is the longest work, is made difficult due to long sections being almost inaudible. I had to remaster it to discover its secrets – I would say that it is the most confronting work on the disc, even though it also contains moments of great beauty.
The review CD is titled Boucourechliev: Intégrale de la Musique Pour Quatuor à Cordes, which seems to imply that it contains the composer’s complete output for string quartet. Possibly, there are no Nos. 1 and 2, I can only speculate. The works are performed by the French Quatuor Ysaÿe.
The CD is available as ‘Used and new’ from Amazon US and UK resellers.
Listenability: Very modern, but I personally find it to be fulfilling.