British Contemporary composer Graham Fitkin seems to compose string quartets as named, one-movement works. There are six on the review CD. Fitkin is a self-proclaimed Minimalist composer who juggles that style with melodic development. You can read a recent interview where he discusses this disc from Presto Classical here. I don’t know how long it will be available but there you have it.
For me, Inside, the longest track on the album, is superb. The opening has a brass-like sound as it forms a drone. A sparse, long, three-note melodic violin phrase takes over – the length is about four bars, at a very slow tempo. Sometimes, distant second violin musings are heard. A brief pause leads back to a stronger evocation of the phrase, this time harmonised by the second violin. There is a certain spirituality about it, being somewhat reminiscent of Morton Feldman’s work. After a time an ostinato motif begins to develop before leading into three sharp chords. The former mood is now resumed until the ostinato returns. Another brief pause leads into a section for a dancing violin, which morphs into some serious undertones from the ensemble. Again, this is very sparse with occasional hints of another ostinato motif. Eventually the motif prevails and a tension comes into the music as the violins express dissonance.
A succession of loud, sharp chords lead into an intense minimalistic passage with the violins continuing their dissonance over another strong rhythmic motif. Suddenly a violin flourish ensues for a brief period, before the ostinato returns. There are many variations here as the piece constantly evolves with different motifs ; sometimes they are simple, at other times, complex. A rhythmic chordal passage is heard, then the music returns to its insistent pulsing with the violins regularly coming up with new patterns. Dropping back to a subtle motif, the music starts to build again as the violins engage. Eventually, all movement stops and the two violins hint at the opening melodic phrase – this is stasis. Now the phrase is heard in its entirety as the opening feeling is evoked. The violins drift into a new mood, with slightly dissonant harmonies presented by the duo. A quiet period of two sustained violins ends the work.
What a fascinating piece. The interaction of the minimalism with the melodic passages has the balance just right. Some of the other pieces are more rhythmic, while two short pieces, A Small Quartet and Another Small Quartet, which both sound very similar, are exercises in abstraction, no rhythm here.
The review CD Graham Fitkin – String Quartets, performed by the Sacconi Quartet, is available from Amazon UK and Presto Classical. Strangely, considering it has just been released, it is only on Amazon US as a download.
Listenability: Fine, accessible Contemporary works.