French Romantic composer Benjamin Godard [1849–1895] wrote three string quartets. Godard is a wonderfully expressive composer, steeped in the Romantic tradition. He has been on my short list for some time and now is the right time.
The First Quartet, which is in four movements, opens in a transcendental manner, with a feeling that is not of its time. Swirling, lyrical strings create a stunning atmosphere. The music then gives way to a short cello interlude before moving into a passage that could be Beethoven. Now settling in to a firm tempo, warm melodies overlap and, passing through a period of flourishes, finally settling on a feeling similar to the opening. This is joyful music, with fine harmonies accompanying the two violins. A period of descending melodic lines is heard and the cello becomes prominent, pushing the violins into another fine, lively passage. A feeling of the dramatic soon subsides into a wonderful peace, again evoking Beethoven with the two violins expressing over a quiet pizzicato cello. The music concludes on a gentle sustained chord.
The next movement opens quietly with all instruments playing pizzicato, in a slow tempo. Out of this a gentle violin melody gives way to the cello, leading to a stately feeling. This is carried on for a time before the earlier gentle melody returns. Long tones create a satisfying feeling, which moves to the end.
The third movement, marked andante quasi (in the manner of) allegro features a stunning opening, where violins and cello coalesce in a magnificent minor key passage. This is surely the emotional heart of the work, again being almost transcendental. A marvellously expressive cello part supports violin melodies that drift in and out of the mood. A gradual strengthening of the melodies moves this wonderful passage forward with a certain delicacy. This is not highly charged, but presents a lamenting atmosphere to die for. Finely crafted melodies begin to be more assertive, all the while still remaining in the minor tonality. Nearing the end, the violins again evoke Beethoven, and a gentle sustained chord concludes. This is a most expressive movement.
An allegro tempo marking has the final movement spinning out a varied melodic section, which drifts in and out of tempo. I find this movement to be not as attractive as those preceding it, with the violin melodies not seemingly able to settle into any sense of certainty. There are many melodic variations and interactions that are of a serious nature and I find myself longing for the quality of the slow movements. Finally, the music works itself into a frenzy and concludes.
The review CD, containing all three quartets is titled Godard:Les Trois Quatuors and performed by Quatuor Élysée on the Timpani. It is available on Amazon US and UK.
The other two quartets are also very fine, with both featuring wonderful slow movements.
Listenability: Fine Romantic works.