FINN SAVERY – A Brilliant Second String Quartet

Danish Contemporary composer Finn Savery [born 1933] has written three string quartets. For me the Second Quartet is a standout, and I have enjoyed it more than any other work I have come across in quite a while. The three movements are all markedly different, sounding like they could have been written by three different composers.

While the work is substantial, the first movement is relatively brief, but is fascinating in its mood. It opens with a series of elegant, gently dissonant chords combined with a floating violin line. A soundscape unfolds, replete with fine slow passages of a groaning ensemble, revealing a sense of stasis. Slowly the violins move into somber melodies. It is a case of music with little movement, but what is heard makes for a fine introduction to that which is to follow.

The next movement opens with a two instrument ostinato. The cello has a terrific presence with seemingly awkward pizzicato statements, and the violin crafts a disjointed melody. The cello now moves into arco, continuing with its abstruse interjections and the ostinato is replaced by a slightly disjointed, though appealing, rhythmic viola and second violin. The sound reminds me of a CD of the Balanescu Quartet, featuring music of David Byrne, Robert Moran, John Lurie and Michael Torke – in other words, there is something familiar at work here. Maybe it is the sound of Minimalism.

This movement features several pauses, and one occurs here, implemented with a sharp stop. Picking up where it left off, although a little more dissonant, the violin expresses strange melodies before another sharp stop, and subsequent pause. This time the music returns at a stronger tempo, with the arco cello guiding the progress. A further pause drops the tempo, and the intensity. The pauses are now coming thick and fast so I will no longer mention them. The cello and first violin are the drivers here, with the cello most prominent. A slow section features a rich cello forming a considerable sense of grounding the music. Both the cello and first violin move into their upper registers.

A recapitulation is marvellous, I had forgotten how beautiful the opening was, with its ostinato, pulsing pizzicato cello and a violin line that is everywhere at once, particularly in a solo section. The return of the cello coincides with a new ostinato, which leads to the end of the movement.

The finale, with the first tempo marking to be seen, poco rubato, opens with a long passage for arco cello, and a consequent melancholy mood. I can’t find any sense of structure in the melody and the violin eventually takes over, again solo and with a similar feeling. The second violin now joins in and brings with it the viola in a rambling section of three melodic lines that do not seem to relate strongly. The entrance of the cello varies the tempo with a strong pulse before it is no longer heard, leaving the violins to their own devices for a time. A returning cello initiates a brief frenzy, which doesn’t last and the violins move variously into sustained, and long tones. The conclusion is vague, with a gentle feeling.

I have become a little intoxicated by this work, having played it half a dozen times in the last week and believe I could conceive of putting it on repeat as I move about my apartment. Having said that, I’m not sure if it would appeal to all tastes – what does? There is a definite sense of modernism to be found and I suggest that those who are so inclined definitely should give it a listen. I have also heard the Third Quartet, which is not on the review CD and found it to be a little tedious. Oh well – maybe on another day, it will sound different.

Titled String Quartet No. 2 / Trio / Synergie / Variations for Clarinet and String Quartet, that pretty much sums up its contents. I found The Variations to my liking. It is performed by the Kontra Quartet on the Da Capo label and is mostly available as an MP3 download only but ArkivMusik have a copy.

The disc is on Spotify and the quartet can be found on earsense and YouTube.

Listenability: Music for a rainy day – it works for me.


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