Hungarian composer Laszlo Lajtha [1892-1963] wrote ten string quartets. All have been recorded but they are disappearing fast so I thought I’d get in before they are all gone. More on availability later. SQ No. 7 is in four movements.
A low bass-like cello statement opens the work. A violin comes in over the top, and then another. The mood is quietly abstract and alluring; the blend within the ensemble is very precious. The cello returns to dominate, establishing a displaced rhythmic pattern that doesn’t seem to affect the violins as they sustain their mood. This is a fine moment. The first violin is the predominant voice but the cello is particularly effective. Now the violin develops a phrase and the cello repeats it; this occurs several times, each time increasing in intensity until they finally overlap and move into a sustained rhythmic section. The cello is brilliant in this slightly chaotic period which eventually dissipates into a slow rubato feeling, leaving just two violins to finish.
The second movement opens with a prancing passage, but there is conflict in the air. The violins converse in a busy manner. The cello has an assertive role to play here, as it joins in the melodies. Suddenly the feeling changes to a much slower, almost plodding, tempo. There is no harmonic movement here, it is left to the violins to sustain interest. A new section allows the cello to add some melodies and the tempo changes again. A solo violin snippet is taken up by the cello and they swap melodies. This is very positive music. It constantly briefly lowers the intensity only to pick it up again with strong melodies. There is some harmonic movement now and all players respond. The end is a long, thrilling violin phrase which leads to a chordal conclusion. I don’t think I’ve come across a movement like this before with so many tempo changes. It’s quite exhilarating.
The next movement is a slow lament with precious, expansive violin melodies. A cello melody comes to the forefront, with minimal backing; it is very strong. The cello digs deep into its lower register and a violin moves in to join it for a sensitive duet. Now we have a hint of a tempo with the cello walking and strings shimmering as the first violin skims across the surface. It finishes very quietly.
The final movement begins with solo violin. The second violin now enters and a duet ensues. There is a very scattered melody. When the cello enters, it brings impetus and the music moves forward. Harmonised violin and cello melodies are heard for a period until the cello returns to its anchor role. The cello won’t be silenced however, and it adds lines to the violin melodies and follows the violins through several moods. The ending has a sound all of its own. There are pizzicato effects, hurried melodies, chordal interjections and a final cello phrase.
This work sometimes sounds Late Romantic but its intensity is definitely Modern. I love the cello, it just has so much to say. I’m going to keep listening to his other quartets as a project, when I can find the time. Throw another CD on the pile!
Now on to availability – it’s complicated. There were four CDs containing all of the composer’s quartets, on the Hungatron label, performed by the Auer Quartet. However, only Volume Two is still obtainable on Amazon. This contains String Quartets Nos. 5, 7 and 9. All four CDs are available as MP3 downloads from Presto Classical.
Listenability: Hmm … Sort of Late Romantic updated for the mid-1900’s. How does that sound?