Swedish composer Kurt Atterberg [1887-1974] wrote four string quartets. Apparently he is a fine symphonist, and not unsurprisingly, his string quartets are quite orchestral, particularly the Second.
String Quartet No. 2, which is in three movements, opens with a charming, positive statement from the violins, with layered accompaniment. The tempo and intensity drop fairly quickly, but the sweet mood remains. Two violins converse while the cello makes appropriate statements. Now the work moves into a tempo and the tonality changes from major to minor. This features some lush writing for a solo violin, over a busy ensemble. The second violin enters with pensive phrases. A brief pause again introduces a solo violin, soon to be joined by the second violin. This is a beautiful piece of writing, very tender. Now the tempo resumes; it’s quite stately. A deceleration leads to a solo violin, and a conclusion.
The next movement, marked andante, starts in a very gentle manner. The violins work in the low register initially, but soon rise above a very gentle accompaniment. The dynamics are low as the first violin crafts a fine, sparse melody. This is a very beguiling section, far from the orchestral nature of the previous movement. The violin continues its journey. Now a very quiet, but insistent tempo is initiated. The violin remains conspicuous, and the ensemble offer up pizzicato statements. The intensity slowly rises but the mood is maintained. The second violin now intercedes and the violins make for a quietly composed ending.
The final movement features a powerful, chordal introduction; it is quite serious. A series of dramatic ascending violin statements build tension as they move into a conversational passage. The violins are very strong here and that ascending feeling returns. Now the first violin skips above the ensemble in a high register, only to return to a section with the violins chasing each other. The violins continue, almost aggressively, and the work concludes with an obligatory flourish.
String Quartet No. 3 is in four movements, and is quite long. Again it features a slightly orchestral opening. The phrasing is delightful and the violins work in harmony as the tempo moves forward. A brief pause introduces a slow section and the violins become flashy as they play with the mood. They lead the ensemble through a prancing section. Now the first violin breaks free for a time and rises above the ensemble, followed by more prancing. This is a fine, mellow mood. A pizzicato section takes the movement out with some strong, sustained violin tones.
The following movement features prominent violins and fine melodies. The rhythm is constant but the mood is measured. A quieter section ensues, which is basically just the two violins; it feels like an interlude. The melodies are very gentle here, and a little melancholic. Finally, we have a tempo and the ensemble dance their way through a change into a minor tonality for a time. The end comes peacefully.
The third movement is a slow, melodic waltz. Violins lead the way, drifting over a subtle background. This is quite an introspective mood and the cello becomes to the fore, with lamenting melodic lines. Now a more powerful passage takes over and the tempo morphs into a new, four-beat feeling. Intertwining violins take centre stage and the mood becomes gentle again. The violins complete the mood with a faded duet.
The final movement is energised, with the violins adding a rhythmic impetus. This mellows and one violin takes the lead over a pleasing ensemble. Now the violin engages in a call and response section with the ensemble. The intensity increases and the first violin soars playfully; the second violin offers great support. A light passage finds the violin playing some delightful melodies and, as the work builds, there are plenty of dynamic violin phrases. An extended, hectic violin section leads to the conclusion.
The review CD, Atterberg / Rangstrom: String Quartets, performed by the Stenhammar Quartet on the CPO label, is filled out with a 13-minute string quartet work by another Swedish composer, Ture Rangstrom, who is marginally more modern than Atterberg. It is available on Amazon US and UK.
Listenability: Wonderful Late Romantic quartets.