Catalonian-Spanish Contemporary composer Josep Soler i Sardà [born 1935] wrote seven string quartets. I discovered Quartets Nos. 1 & 5 whilst investigating two CD compilations of string quartets from Catalan composers – both discs are very fine. I am going to discuss the First Quartet, which was written in 1966 and is in one movement. The work is Modern and mysterious, containing passages of frenzy contrasted with moments of abstruse beauty.
The opening consists of a gentle solo violin leading into a sparse ensemble passage of total abstraction. The violin repeats its opening phrase, again solo, before the cello and further string sounds move in behind it. Then this whole process is repeated until a sense of urgency develops – the intensity is very high as the instruments formulate a dense passage of dissonant utterances. A sharp chord and some string sound effects simply delay the progress of the previous passage. A pause followed by further obscure effects leads to a mood similar to the opening. Strange string sound effects are prominent.
Another sharp chord leads into a section with the cello alternating between jazz style walking and arco. This is a fabulous, mysterious sound. There is no forward movement here, just an engaging soundscape with the violin in a low register especially effective. Spurious interjections are very subtle as the music edges forward with a sense of peace but seemingly, no purpose. Now a gently throbbing cello leads the ensemble into a brief chaotic passage – the status quo is soon resumed. Not for long however as a further period of chaos unfolds.
The progress is now about alternating sections of slightly aggressive moments, contrasted with lamenting sounds. I am finding this to be quite schizophrenic. The cello makes some strong arco assertions, then takes over the music completely. A two-note phrase that was presented earlier now returns and brings a sense of order once again. Two violins simmer, with only occasional input from the cello, its vibrato-less tone the perfect foil for the prevailing mood. A shift to more chaos – this time featuring much pizzicato and a serious glissando from firstly the cello, and subsequently the violins. Another serious section dissolves into a sullen mood, not unlike the opening, but with a greater depth of feeling. All instruments are sparse here, and the cello comes forward with soft, but searing lines, this time with a strong vibrato attack. The violins play out the conclusion with a series of soft, slightly dissonant lines, with the arco cello having the last say.
I love this music and it has been a while since I have discussed anything so avante-garde, albeit with many moving moments.
I should make mention of the Fifth Quartet. To my total surprise, it appears to be a deconstruction of the long, adagio movement of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 15. Hearing this movement on the radio was the beginning of my journey exploring string quartets, and it is still my favourite individual movement in the genre. Soler’s one-movement Fifth Quartet is longer than Beethoven’s, and, contains much original content. I found it to be a little unusual, not sure why. Maybe it’s because there is also so much of Beethoven’s thematic material there. Nevertheless, it is a very interesting, insightful and soulful work.
The review CD, Catalan Quartets, performed by the Kreutzer Quartet on the Metier label, also contains two other one movement works. These are by Albert Sarda and Miquel Roger. This is available on Amazon UK but only as an MP3 download from Amazon US.
Listenability: Highly entertaining quartet works.