Trawling through Spotify recently I came across a beguiling CD by a Catalonian composer Jordi Cervello [1935-], titled simply Quartets. I had not heard of Cervello before so I experienced what turned out to be a long, rewarding first listen. I have a feeling this review will be longer than usual!
The music on the CD does not consist of numbered quartets but rather named suites, each with several movements. For instance, the first suite, Remembrance, contains four movements and runs to about 21 minutes. The first two movements are mostly taken at a slow tempo. They evoke a profound feeling of melancholia and abstraction. Then the tempo quickens and you have a sense of the composer’s Spanish background. I believe there is also a hint of Dvorak to be found here, specifically from Dvorak’s Op. 96 and 97, which I have reviewed earlier (May 2016). This is particularly noticeable with some familiar melodic fragments and the use of trills in the accompaniment. The final movement returns to a magnificent pensive feeling, very slow and soft, but thankfully loud enough to be audible. I have a thing about recording engineers setting the volume way too low; music deserves to be heard …
Dos Movimentos begins with a similar mood. A solo cello lament introduces the piece and plays a prominent part in this slow movement. This is very thought-provoking writing. The second movement is more obviously Spanish, with an appropriate tempo.
The next, five-movement piece is entitled Etuden nach Kreutzer. I’ll have to brush up on my German! This is the most energetic suite on the CD. However, as with the previous pieces, it also breaks into a sombre mood in places. The up-tempo movements usually have a slightly Spanish feeling.
The final work is A Bach but I cannot readily find anything about Bach in it. To me, it continues with the flavour of the CD, but please don’t assume that it all sounds the same, it certainly doesn’t. The composer finds many ways to express melancholy.
The CD is reminiscent of Haydn’s Seven Last Words … (reviewed May 2016) in that it contains many tempo markings of andante, lento, calmo, poco adagio and calmo espressivo. These all indicate slow or moderate tempos. I shall have to find some synonyms for beautiful, abstract and melancholy because that is what this music is all about.
Obviously, given the above, this disc is ultimately very introspective. My favourite movements in string quartetss are slow, melancholy, abstract and sometimes angular, as opposed to the approach of some modernist composers who deal in anger and aggression. This one really left a mark on me.
As far as I know, there is only one version of these works, by the Atrium Quartet. I have already ordered a copy and it has shipped. I have a feeling from Amazon US and UK that it is going to be harder to obtain soon.
Listenability: Magnificent melancholy music.