American Contemporary composer George Tsontakis [born 1951] has written at least four string quartets. His String Quartet No. 4, titled Beneath Thy Tenderness of Heart is in three named movements.
Introduction – Chorale and Meditations is the longest movement of the work. Opening with a hymn-like quality, a peaceful mood is established, which features simple harmonised melodic lines. This proceeds into a fugue-like passage, with the instruments mimicking each other. A sense of tension then ensues, followed by some severe violin interspersions – the violins are very deep here. Soon the sound of the music evokes waves, as lines propel it forward, before moving into an introspective section, and then a return to the opening simplicity. A tempestuous passage, with powerful overlapping instrumental utterances is heard before a peace settles with a violin in the upper register lamenting romantically. This certainly doesn’t sound like the prevailing musical climate of string quartets from this era.
An intense cello-driven mood gives way to another powerful passage. A sustained solo violin tone ends with a brief pause. Earlier passages are revisited before some strong chordal melodies are heard. The music seems to move between the powerful and the introspective at will, always filled with interesting textures. A gentle moment evokes late Beethoven, giving way to a chaos which still contains great beauty. Spiralling violins dominate, becoming circular in motion, as they drive towards a frantic finish.
Part Two: Scherzo is comparatively brief and begins with positive, rhythmically satisfying harmonised cello lines. There is an abundance of forward movement here as the two violins converse, within the confines of a strong cello accompaniment. Now the piece is bursting with energy until it fades into a wispy atmosphere, albeit briefly, before the tempo is resumed. Frantic violins navigate ascending harmonic movement, which eventually gives way to a piercing solo violin to terminate.
Part Three: Postlude, the Madonna Weeps starts frantically but soon fades into a dissonant, but alluring section for two violins – there is a great sense of mystery here. A pause leads to another loud flourish but this too, returns to a sustained violin duet. The dissonance has gone but the feeling of mystery continues. A pattern seems to develop as another strong flourish leaves us alone with two violins – occasionally the viola and cello offer harmonised motifs in the background. Again a similar passage unfolds, loud leading to considered violin melodies in an abstract duet, with a gentle, pulsing accompaniment. The violins are magical here. The cycle is repeated, although this time the boisterous nature lasts for a considerable time. Eventually we are back to a previous sound space, this time with a shrill, solo violin featured. A sparse harmonic undercurrent sustains the shrill tone of the violin as it slowly fades to a conclusion. This is a tremendous movement, filled with deep emotional moments.
The review CD, by the American String Quartet, also contains a wonderful Quartet No. 3, another three movement work titled Coraggio. The first movement, marked lento isn’t even slow, but rhythmic and dramatic. The second, marked misterioso, is another stunning piece of writing.
This CD, George Tsontakis – String Quartets Nos. 3 & 4, is available on Amazon US and UK and can be sampled on Spotify. Only the second movement of No. 4, strangely, marked andante is on YouTube and you have to scroll down to find it.
Listenability: Innovative, emotionally charged Contemporary work.