British composer Douglas Weiland [born 1954] has written at least five string quartets. I am going to discuss the Fifth Quartet, which is in three movements.
The work is characterised by the juxtaposition of Romantic and modernist melodic lines, which leads to its mysterious nature.
The first notes are very sweet and not of their time, as a short melodic passage unfolds. Now an atonal section ensues, which is also very beautiful. The phrasing is simple rhythmically but quite intense in the note selection and execution. A busy cello cuts across these melodies and begins to assume a guiding role. I love these abstract soundscapes, one of which includes a descending atonal passage, before moving on to a series of cello led assertions. This music doesn’t sound British to me, but you can’t argue with the facts. A soft pastoral section, with brief slithers of atonality makes for a fascinating sound. Now rhythmic complexity leads into a very sparse atmosphere. A flourish of six chords to finish is a surprise.
Shostakovich is evoked in the opening passage of the second movement, until a solo violin expresses wistfully, and in a mild manner. The ensemble move the music forward with delicate musings, both melodic and rhythmic. Now the solo violin returns and any trace of DSCH has disappeared. The cello is wonderful here, and beautifully recorded. The constant switch from the tonal to the atonal is very satisfying before the mood is suddenly a little confronting. A sustained violin tone brings about an almost Mozart feeling, if it were not for the atonal note selection. The cello again offers up a solo passage, leading to a gentle, harmonised motif, with one cello tone in particular, standing out, in a stark manner. A sweet, sometimes bitter section follows with several combinations of the four voices being a feature. The music now moves into a shrill solo violin section. A false ending is broken by a somber ensemble passage, which is elegant in nature, and leads to a quiet ending.
The third movement starts in a tempo for a brief section, before receding into another lamenting passage. Some strong violin lines lead into a new tempo, with sharp bowed thrusts prominent. The music flits forward, and some harmonised lines can be heard, embedded within a plethora of string sound effects. Now a richness, which sounds quite British, begins to become frantic, and somewhat dark. Eventually, the music returns to being conversational, with blocks of strangely harmonised sections, and the cello being very moving emotionally. There is a frenzied rush to a conclusion.
I am glad that, from my perspective this final work took me on a journey that has always fascinated me.
The review CD, titled String Quartets 4 & 5 is performed by the Melbourne Quartet and released on the Naxos label.
These works are on Spotify and YouTube.
Listenability: Try it …