BORIS TISHCHENKO – String Quartets Nos. 1 and 3

Russian Contemporary composer Boris Ivanovich Tishchenko [1939–2010] wrote six string quartets. Interestingly, they cover a time span of 50 years.

The First Quartet, written in 1957 is relatively short, and contains three movements. It commences with an extended solo violin section. The mood is morose and the playing folk-like as the violin fashions a conservative melody. The violin is then joined by a harmonic backdrop of sustained chords; quite beautiful really. A solo cello statement appears and the ensemble soon overwhelms it. This is very tense music. Now some gentle harmonised cello lines predominate over the sound of strings, which eventually assume control. A return to the opening is this time accompanied by the ensemble. The cello again steps forward and moves to an ending.

The second, brief movement commences with a throbbing rhythm, which is occasionally interrupted by violins. However, the feeling eventually returns for a short time. Now we have a passage of controlled chaos until the throbbing is resumed. A virtuosic cello line leads to a conclusion.

The finale, marked lento, features a longing violin over sustained string tones. It is a most alluring passage. Now a solo violin introduces a little optimism, which leads to a violin reaching skyward. Upon returning to the ground, it is rejoined by the ensemble and some powerful cello lines are heard. The cello cycles through several changes of tonality, before the opening peace is again heard. The music has now become soft; it just fades away.

String Quartet No. 3 was written in 1970 and is in four movements. It is a strange piece, as I shall attempt to explain. It again opens with a solo violin, to be joined by some ensemble interjections. It forms a very gentle, expressive mood which persists for some time. There is no pulse to be found here, and the violins restrict themselves to a small emotional range. The arrival of the cello adds tension, especially when it makes striking melodic statements. The music now becomes agitated, with no instrument seemingly concerned about its environment. This is the first strange section in the work. Having completely destroyed the opening mood, the whole ensemble power to an abrupt ending.

The next movement leads straight into abstraction with dissonant, rhythmically charged violin flourishes and the cello adding to the sound. A pause leads into a sparse, but disjointed section which is high on entropy and low on structure, consisting mostly of string sound effects. A solo violin makes for a dissonant melodic line as it races to the end. I believe that the movements in this work are to be played without pauses in between, as the music seems to suggest this.

The third movement starts with a robust solo cello, and is soon joined by the ensemble. Again, there is a high degree of entropy. A violin and cello duet proceeds in a most disjointed manner. Now all instruments are involved and a chaos is achieved. Some rhythmic punctuation is briefly felt, and the violin negotiates this with strange melodies. The music now moves into a set of chaotic passages broken up by small breaks. The cello goes solo in a most unstructured fashion, until the violins resume their chaotic musings, before ending with some powerful flourishes. Strange music indeed.

This time, there is a pause between movements and the finale opens with a most poignant mood, so distant from the previous movement. Two violins reflect with plaintive melodies overlapping, gradually increasing in intensity. A touch of dissonance can occasionally be heard as the mood progresses over an extended period. At last a loud phrase is heard, then repeated and developed but the ambience of the violins persists. That hurdle crossed, the violins proceed with a gentle cello accompanying. When the cello drops out, the violins lead to an almost inaudible conclusion.

I call this music strange because of its vast contrasts, beginning within the first movement and continuing through the second and third. The last movement is from a different musical world.

Tishchenko’s quartets are available, but not many are on single CDs. There is a 3-CD set, Complete String Quartets, performed by two different quartet ensembles, which is freely available on Amazon US, UK and Presto. This set can also be heard on Spotify. All six are on earsense and Quartets Nos. 1 and 3 can be found on YouTube.

Listenability: Some fine slow passages littered with chaotic moments.


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