Polish Contemporary composer Krzysztof Meyer [born 1943] has written at least fourteen string quartets. All but No. 14 have been recorded. A feature of these quartets is that they tend towards more introspection in the later works – some of the earlier quartets are quite confronting.
The Twelfth Quartet contains nine movements, which I will sometimes to refer to as sections.
One – Lento –The work opens with a gentle atonal landscape which slowly builds in tension. Expressive violin melodic lines are insistent, but never confronting, with sporadic cello and viola mutterings in the background
Two – Con ira –A stark introduction opens this brief movement. A sense of dissonance is heard, together with pizzicato creating a measured assertive passage. A mild chaos slowly develops, with the violins prominent, which ends on a flourish.
Three –Vivo – Strong, dissonant harmonised violins are accompanied by a walking pizzicato cello, making for a marvellous mood – somewhat reminiscent of jazz composer Ornette Coleman’s writing for strings. Rhythmic thrusts give way to strong, dissonant violin lines – the walking cello is particularly effective throughout and the mood is completed by a sense of evanescence.
Four – Dolente – This, the longest section of the work opens with a wonderful feeling of lament as a solo violin is occasionally complemented by a sensitive arco cello. Gradually, other instruments join in but the feeling is very subtle. Quivering bows provide a spiritual mood, one that allows the violin to craft a most expressive passage. Now the violin soars and the ensemble strengthen and sometimes harmonise with the violin. This is most poignant Contemporary writing. Nearing the end the violin laments freely, leading to another quiet conclusion. For me, this section is the highlight of the work.
Five – Furioso – A challenging opening soon disperses into a series of violin glissandos, creating an atonal, abstract mood. The introduction of pizzicato brings a sense of chaos, where dissonant melodic lines abound. Now a solo violin softens the feeling briefly, before two violins express a powerful ending.
Six – Largo – This moves straight into another atonal soundscape with the cello prominent. The violins complement each other wonderfully as the shortest section of the work concludes.
Seven – Adagio – There is no pause before this section and it again features a sombre feeling with a deep cello expressing long lines, occasionally interrupted by string sound effects, which eventually become the music. A return of the cello leads to an increasing atonal intensity, which then gives way to a lamenting cello and various string sound effects from the ensemble. The cello persists, reaching into its highest register before fading on a sustained, shrill tone.
Eight – Prestissimo – A powerful harmonised violin duet expresses over a sombre background and a forward momentum is established – quite unusual for this work. A pause leads to a passage of glissandos. The violins then surge in a dramatic manner to an abrupt end.
Nine – Appassionato – Strong chords set the mood for this final section. Out of this develops an alluring passage with a violin expressing sparse phrases against a carpet of quivering bows, which are very distant. A pause leads into a sparse violin which simply disappears.
I find this work to be fascinating and most appealing. Its modern tendencies are always very measured and it contains moments of profound beauty.
The review CD, Meyer: String Quartets Nos. 9/11/12 is performed by the Wieniawski String Quartet, who I believe have recorded the first thirteen quartets on four discs for the Naxos label. All four CDs are available on Amazon US and UK.
Spotify has the four CDs but YouTube mainly has the earlier works.
Listenability: Wonderful, brooding, Contemporary quartet.