JSQP – ANDREW IMBRIE – Hot Off the Press

American composer Andrew Welsh Imbrie [1921–2007] wrote five string quartets. This post will be on his First Quartet, which is in three movements. As this is the first JSQP post, I will link to the JSQ Project page here.

The piece opens with an ascending harmonised line, and an accompanying violin flourish. The harmonies are maintained, in sustained thrusts. A skittish passage has the violin dancing over atonal lines and a harmonised rhythmic section is brief with the violins continuing to go at it. This is music of a new world, that of mid-twentieth century America. The texture is most satisfying, with several gentle moments of introspection. Now the activity resumes and a pizzicato ensemble move the violin forward with both arco and pizzicato thrusts. A strong, harmonised line makes for a bold statement, moving into some dual violin interplay, which becomes quite shrill. The cello has a deep presence here. A long, racing, harmonised line moves into some confronting chords to end this first movement.

An extremely soft passage opens the next movement. This precious mood is again atonal, but wrapped in feeling. The violins reach out in a plaintive manner and the expression is superb. Now the cello lumbers to centre stage, and the violins offer lilting support, eventually taking over, leading to a dialogue between cello and strings. I just love this fascinating, abstract passage. The dynamic level is very withdrawn but the feeling is profound as the music meanders through this gentle mood at a leisurely pace. Now some held chords with an impassioned violin finish peacefully.

The final movement features a strong opening, and not a little tension. A change in mood is dance-like, with all instruments taking part – again, the level of abstraction is high. A passage of solo cello is interrupted by pizzicato violin thrusts before cascading violins lead the music into a different feeling with more interplay. This short movement ends on a flourish leading to some strong chords.

This concert, named Memorial concert for Frank Damrosch was recorded on February 15, 1952 and was an incredible event, also featuring  late Beethoven quartets, Nos. 13 and Opus 133, the original fugue ending, both stunning performances, and Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.

The complete concert can be found here.

There are several quartets on Spotify, and the discussed work can be found on earsense and YouTube.

Listenability: A fascinating, measured, abstract work.


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