DAG WIREN – Further Quartets – Nos. 2 and 5

Swedish composer Dag Wiren [1905-1996] wrote five string quartets. I discussed string quartet No. 4 in February 2017, making special note of the progression from the early to the later quartets. I hope this concept will become clearer in this post.

Firstly, String Quartet No. 2 is in three movements, and features a folk-like purity. It opens in a stately manner with a hint of a melody from the wafting violins. An interplay is developed which moves the music forward. A new section brings forth a moderate tempo, while retaining the joyful interplay. As it progresses, the violins become busier. Suddenly a loud flourish settles the piece into a forward propulsion with it almost being chaotic, in a pleasant way. There is a brief pause with a longing passage taking over. The violins converse in a moderate tempo and the emotional intensity begins to rise. Suddenly we are back into a racing tempo mostly of a rhythmic, not melodic, nature. A further change brings the cello to the forefront. Now we have a recapitulation of the opening theme; this a most delightful passage. The violins conclude with a note that hangs in the air.

The next movement opens with a gentle, lilting ambience. It has a folk-like nature that is driven by a violin melody with pizzicato accompaniment. A change ensues, bringing the two violins together as a duet. The cello joins in and the mood is again gentle and lilting. After a brief pause we are taken into another idyllic passage. The cello serves as a backdrop for some sweeping violin phrases; the rhythm is insistent and the end, slightly surprising.

The final movement begins at a breakneck tempo with much quivering of the bows. The tempo drops and a pastoral mood is evoked. The cello dances and the violins make a series of concise statements. The interplay sets up a joyous mood and the opening tempo is reintroduced. After a playful passage the cello is featured. Then follows another surprising end. That’s all he wrote!

A contrasting String Quartet No. 5 is in three relatively brief movements. A stark melodic phrase sets the scene for the opening. It’s very abstract as instruments move in and out. There is a lot of action for the bows here. A rhythmic ensemble statement is repeated and modified, and there are breaks where a solo violin features prominently. A section of call and response is very tense and the violins are rhythmically incisive. It finishes on the opening phrase. I had difficulty describing this movement; it won’t settle. There are lots of angular melodies and jagged edges to the accompaniment.

The second movement, the longest of the three, opens with a lamenting phrase developed by all of the instruments. Now the ensemble acts as a canvas upon which the violin may meander. The piece is stretched tight until the cello takes over and leads it into a different mood. There is some great writing here. The feeling is just how I like it; intangible, abstract, longing. A sudden change introduces an up-tempo pizzicato section. The entry of a soulful cello puts an end to this and the music returns to its meditative state, and an end to the movement.

The finale maintains a similar mood to the previous movement – mournful. A viola carries the passage and the music now leaps into life, with rhythmic pizzicato leading the way. The intensity increases and an ascending cello, together with the viola, make for a powerful sound. There is plenty of rhythmic impetus here and the harmonised ascending cello line is repeated while the music gathers energy. After a time the sparsity returns and the violins probe the mood. Nearing the end, the opening is repeated, with perhaps a little more intensity. The energy returns for a time until it eventually concludes peacefully.

I am fond of this CD – String Quartets 2-5 on Daphne Records, by the Lysell Quartet and had to have it for myself. Amazon UK has it for 400 pounds but copies are on Amazon US for a regular price. I was able to obtain a copy from www.arkivmusic.com.

Two different versions are on Spotify, including the Lysell, together with several movements on YouTube. All works can be found on earsense.

Listenability: Marvellous. I hope the progression from the early to the late comes through.


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