Hungarian–Dutch Early Modern composer Géza Frid [1904– 1989] wrote five string quartets over a relatively long period, 1926-1956.
The First Quartet, marked tranquillo (in a calm and relaxed tempo), opens with an enigmatic mood that features a solo violin set against a strong harmonic canvas. A period of two violins is very dynamic, with glissandos setting up a powerful scene. This is music with a strong pulse that is played out with various ostinatos. A brief pause leads to an inquisitive passage where the violins converse in a gentle manner. A return to the rhythm is not so loud this time but rather thoughtful, before leading to a crescendo where the two violins express dramatic phrases. The ostinato returns and various rhythmic feelings are played out and a sparsity concludes. I am very fond of this rather introspective, probing movement.
The next movement opens in a similar mood to the William Tell Overture, albeit with reduced instrumental forces. These rhythms reappear throughout the movement. A section of dramatic glissandi leads to a gentle passage where the cello expresses over shrill violins. Now a scurrying section develops into a full-blown assault from the violins. This gradually dissipates and a thoughtful passage has a dramatic violin which turns frantic, leading to a powerful ending.
The third movement is marked lento – rubato, which sounds rather promising. A solo violin plays sparse long tones in a modal manner. As the cello enters with a sustained note the violin positively laments and introduces the second violin. The sustained accompaniment prevails intermittently and the violins explore various textures. This is the music I was born to listen to – abstraction being the dominant feature as the violins progressively become more raucous and reach fever pitch. Eventually the tension is relieved and the rhythm assumes a texture similar to the work of Philip Glass for a time, all of this acting as a backdrop for intense violin statements. Now the feeling dissipates and soft, slow violin tones drift across the previously heard sustained chord, again leading to a sense of the modal. Another frantic violin episode is brief and it soars into a shrill register over a gentle chord which fades to finish. This is very emotionally rewarding music.
The finale, marked allegro – vivace, opens with relaxed violins pursuing some unheard melodies; with the music of a gentle nature. Soon a sense of drama is encountered and a section of ensemble pizzicato dialogues with a solo violin. Now the opening is revisited, in a joyous manner. A pizzicato interlude leads into a propulsive passage and the violins are gypsy-like. The dynamics in this movement are constantly changing and many musical spaces are explored. Percussive motifs, together with harmonic changes, build to another frenzied section. A brief peaceful interlude leads to a return of the frantic violins and concludes the work.
I must admit to becoming completely absorbed in this music, which I have only recently encountered. The first four quartets are of a consistently high standard. Strangely, for works written over a period of 30 years, I found them to be quite similar in style and particularly enjoyed the slow movement soundscapes.
The review CD, titled Fantasia Tropica, which is the name of the Third Quartet, is performed by the Amaryllis Quartet on the Coviello Classics label. It is available on Amazon UK in CD format and Amazon US as an MP3 download.
Listenability: Wonderful, exciting Early Modern works, filled with contrasts.