This disc is a themed compilation of mostly introspective works for string quartet. I intend to discuss three composers’ contributions.
Alisdair MacClean’s String Quartet No. 2 is in two movements, both of which are marked lento and lento-allegro, respectively. This work seems to set the mood for the whole CD. A solo violin initiates the movement with long tones, eventually backed by mild pizzicato statements. String sound events abound and a deep solo cello statement is heard. An air of palpable tension evolves as cello lines are paraphrased by first one, then two violins and a sense of forward propulsion is felt. The sound of the strings is now very rich and mournful as the long tones return. Out of this feeling arises a strong but serious melodic line with the cello and pizzicato viola providing abstract support. A plucked viola accompanies a solo violin line to the end.
Again, a solo violin opens the second movement, with droning ensemble sounds that morph first into arhythmic interjections before moving on to an ensemble dialogue with folk-like melodies. A pulse is created and the violin, and then cello, express longing statements to the sound of a chordal rhythm. This passage is of a pastoral nature but there are also some serious melodic statements interspersed within the mood. The violins now reach higher and the cello responds with a powerful passage which calls the violins to heel. A brief reprise leads to a solo violin being answered by the ensemble, leading to a brief flourish to conclude.
John Ireland’s The Holy Boy, while extremely short seems to be a classic of British string quartet composition. Its length belies its beauty as the sweetest of harmonised violin melodies unfolds. It feels like a tone poem in miniature, with simple, but wonderfully expressive melodies being at its heart. The end is pure.
The longest work on the CD is Srul Glick’s From Out of the Depths, which is in six named movements. This work can be seen as a summing up of the emotional tone of the whole disc. All of the movements pertain to contemplation and things of the past.
Mourning Music features a pensive ensemble, with deep emotional expression and no change in dynamics. The reflective tone is sustained for the whole of its short duration.
These I Remember is not much longer, but while having a gentle rhythmic pulse which edges the music forward, is bereft of melodic development. Suddenly, a soaring violin rises above the ensemble with a fine melodic statement which transforms the movement – the end comes quickly.
Lament is again brief and features a violin duet over a drone background. The melodies are achingly beautiful, in a way evoking Arvo Pärt before the drone fades to a conclusion.
I Believe opens in a lush, lyrical manner, seemingly much more contemporary than its predecessors. Quivering bows support an attractive melody, before a change to a gently throbbing passage brings all instruments to bear on the feeling. The volume increases although not for long as the music briefly pauses before returning to the opening mood. It finishes on a strong chordal sweep.
So Many Times is another lamenting piece, with two overlapping violins expressing powerfully over an understated ensemble. A new theme evokes something familiar, possibly the opening of Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, before moving into another heartfelt passage to conclude.
Remembrance contains another inspirational melody, very simple in nature, which develops into a gentle rhapsody, before finishing the work.
The music in this CD is remarkable for its consistent interpretations of profound, contemplative soundscapes.
The other composers represented on the disc are Joaquin Turina, Ernest MacMillan, Healey Willan, Frank Bridge and Ernest Bloch. I must admit to concentrating on the melancholy as there is also some more positive music here, but certainly not much.
Hidden Treasures, performed by the Saint John String Quartet is available on Amazon US and UK.
It can also be sampled in full on Spotify and YouTube.
Listenability: Charming, but deeply involving twentieth century works.