American composer David L. Post [born c. 1950] has written at least four string quartets. I am going to discuss Nos. 3 and 4.
The third quartet is in one movement. It opens with an optimistic melody and chordal punctuations. They eventually disappear and we are left with a burbling melody. The mood then softens a little and a solo violin pursues a different emotional feeling. There is a lot of forward propulsion in this work and occasionally the punctuations return. Now the melody is more melancholy and the accompaniment sparse, quite lyrical really. This is a wonderful moment; the opening seems like it was a long time ago. Having said that, this music evokes a contemporary landscape, possibly a city.
A pause is followed by a pastoral melody. The cello provides a subtle tempo whilst the violin develops a wonderful new atmosphere. It descends to the bottom of its register and for a moment, there are some more interjections. The lyrical feeling reappears, however, and the melody persists. Now the cello sets up a brisk tempo and the violins scurry about, with some agitation. A new tempo finds the ensemble providing slightly dissonant thrusts; but not too powerful. There is some marvellous harmony here; again it evokes the feeling of the present age. A violin repeats one note rapidly and the other instruments insert various seemingly random notes to achieve a slightly abstract feeling.
Another pause introduces a wonderful quiet section, totally lacking in tempo. Sparse violins bring about a most precious soundscape, reminiscent of Charles Ives’ quieter orchestral passages. The music begins to darken as the violins investigate new melodic possibilities, but they don’t last. There is another pause and the two violins return to draw out long melodies. The cello can be heard occasionally in the background. The violins continue the dreamy, abstract, Ives-like atmosphere and slowly fade out to conclude.
This quartet is really in three sections; the intensity decreases as each one arrives. The third movement is a fine piece of writing, evoking a feeling of serenity and sparsity. It’s a terrific work.
SQ No. 4 is titled 3 Photographs of Abelardo Morell ; its three movements are also named.
Camera Obscura Image of Brookline View in Brady’s Room – The quartet begins with the cello, then the violin plays a very interesting phrase that seems to ask a question. This continues with the phrase being featured in a section with the other violin in support; the phrase is also developed at some length. A flourish finishes the section. The next passage is pulsating and the violins sustain a tense mood. There are some intermittent, startling chordal interjections. The cello is prominent for a time and finally, it is just two violins that lead the movement to a conclusion.
Book: Pieta –The second movement again opens with a prominent cello while a violin meanders through the mood. The second violin enters and adds to the ambience, which takes me to a special place. The cello is strong and the violins are quite beautiful. It’s just the violins for a time, until the cello eventually returns. We now have a full sound and a change in harmony leads to a propulsive rhythmic passage. The music then cuts back to a lamenting solo violin. After a time the cello joins in; it’s very subtle. The movement concludes on a shimmering violin phrase which is enchanting.
Map in Sink – In the final movement, the viola plays a repeated motif and a pizzicato violin cuts across the rhythm. A harmonic change brings more intensity and the violins produce some stabbing chords. Now the violin begins to ask questions and the ensemble respond with vigour. A slightly chaotic passage ensues and it’s all over. This is quite a short movement.
These are fine quartets. The review CD, Post: String Quartets 2-4, performed by The Hawthorne Quartet, also contains a short piece, Fantasia on a Virtual Chorale – much music to listen to. It is available on Naxos at Amazon US and UK.
Listenability: Not as modern as I would have thought, but impressive nonetheless.