Contemporary composer David Achenberg [born 1966] has written at least four string quartets. I found information on him to be quite sparse but he may be French. The Fourth Quartet is titled Blue Ébène, which translates as Blue Ebony. This work is in three named movements. All movements are dedicated to the performing ensemble, Quatuor Tana.

Prologue in 5 Small Fragments. The work opens with spinning sounds from the ensemble, revealing a rich harmonic canvas suitable for further development. A brief pause leads to a long solo violin tone concluding with a strong bow stroke, which introduces a changed harmonic background. This pattern of long tone followed by shimmering notes is repeated a number of times. Now we have a passage of an ensemble ostinato motif, with an occasional strong bow stroke. Eventually there is a pause, leading to a dissonant section with all four instruments creating an unusual set of harmonies. Some glissandi is heard before another pause followed by an industrial sounding passage. A sustained violin tone is played out over a shimmering of bow strokes and a suspended glissando ends.

Blue Ébène, the longest movement begins with a sustained cello tone, with sporadic notes coming from the other instruments. Things are a little frantic as the music does not settle. Now some glissandi leads to a section of strong violin, slightly dissonant over another shimmering background. A dissonant motif is similar to the first movement. The sound evokes birds for me, probably due to the attack on the bow by the violin. More glissandi becomes the dominant voice, with assorted dissonances in the background. A hint of melody arises out of the string sound effects and a plucked cello concludes.

Epilogue: A sustained backing has several instruments arising out of the deep mood. This seems to be more accompaniment than music. An ostinato motif is again developed and various plucked and arco tones drift in and out. It is all about a drone here, with piecemeal melodic statements being present. The cello is particularly prominent and pizzicato chords are interesting. The drone fades to completion.

All four of the quartets are worthwhile.

The review CD, Blue Ébène on the Paraty label is performed by Quatuor Tana. I couldn’t find it on Amazon but Presto Classical has it via download.

The CD is on Spotify, and most of the works are on YouTube.

Listenability: Moderately difficult.


1 thought on “DAVID ACHENBERG – Blue Ébène”

  1. Intriguing sq JH. The YouTube was quite effective albeit strange and a little narcissistic perhaps. Art.

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