This collection of five, mainly Early Modern composers, all associated with Leningrad, consists of three one-movement, and two multiple-movement, string quartet works. I am going to discuss the latter.
Leningrad born German Okunev [1931-1973] wrote two string quartets. The Second Quartet, from 1962, is in five movements which are presented as three CD tracks.
- Introduction – 2. Scherzo – opens with low tones and violin expressing in a morose fashion over an intermittent pizzicato cello line. The cello drops out and a second violin forms a duet in a similar serious manner. Long lines abound, before the second violin pauses and the cello again provides seemingly random notes. Now the cello goes solo, arco style with a rich tone, for a brief excursion. This is followed by an animated violin duet with an atonal feeling – the two instruments constantly criss-cross each other’s lines. Now they switch into a bowed rhythm and the cello returns, similar to its earlier style. A strong tempo is established and the viola and a violin exchange short phrases in a hectic passage, I guess we are in the scherzo. Dynamic thrusts lead to another violin duet, this time, measured at first but eventually descending into chaos, with a spirited ending.
3 Andante has another solo violin opening, again in the low register. It is soon joined by the second violin, and the cello. This develops into a slow fugue-until all instruments contribute to a chord and a sense of sparsity unfolds with a terrific ambient soundscape. I love the sound of two slightly dissonant violins going at it. Suddenly a shrill solo violin takes over, then is joined by the second violin. This passage is again, quite morose and it soon drops back to another sparse texture. Nearing the end a solo violin is accompanied by searing chordal thrusts before cello and a violin combine for a faded finish.
- Intermezzo – 5. Final – begins with a mysterious feeling of a viola motif anchoring atonal violin lines at a slow tempo. A pause results in a similar feeling, with the violins more animated this time. The viola motif introduces a harmonic change and the sound of pure pizzicato is heard. I can never detect much melody in pizzicato passages and that sentiment applies here. Reverting back to arco, the previous motif returns. A complete change introduces the final section with the most conservative music heard so far, rapidly degenerating into a chaotic mood. Dissonant lines lead to a mini orchestral conclusion.
Alexander (sometimes Aleksandr) Chernov [1917-1971] also wrote two string quartets. His First Quartet, from 1970, is in three movements.
The brief first movement, marked andante, also begins in a sombre mood with a solo violin lamenting before being joined by the second violin. This sound is positively pleading, and the entry of the viola softens it a little. The dynamic level gradually rises and moves into a stilted section with the cello joining in. Now a solo cello predominates, with occasional shrill violin statements which fade away.
The next movement is a complete contrast with lyrical lines played in a rhythmic manner, which could be considered as popular music. This is followed by a more meaty section with a little dissonance and vigour. A return to the opening feeling seems out of place to me, but there you have it. The final passage is made up of two dissonant violins and a pizzicato cello.
Slightly agitated violins open the last movement with quite aggressive expression. Now a harmonised cello and violin line with a descending theme moves into a passage of call and response. A long pause gives way to a sound similar to the opening. However, this time the violins are not as fractious – they are beguiling and possibly even romantic. Now a more modern phase ensues, with the violins becoming somewhat random as they interchange phrases with considerable energy. Moving into a chordal passage, with the cello providing strong support, the sound is reduced to delicate with a violin lamenting over a drone. This changes further with a section of lyrical, lilting violins and a sparse cello which gradually diminishes in intensity and fades to conclude.
Apparently these recordings were made from 1966-1973. Given the fact that I heard some vinyl pops and clicks, I suspect that this disc is a remaster of an old LP. Interestingly, some of the pieces were written during the period of the recording, making them quite new at the time.
Also on the CD are three interesting one-movement works by the following composers.
Veniamin Basner [1925-1996] – String Quartet No.1 (1948)
Sergei Slonimsky [born 1932] – Antiphons for string quartet (1968)
Yakov Prigozhin [1926-1994] – String Quartet No.1 (1970)
The review CD, Leningrad String Quartets, performed by the Taneyev Quartet on the Northern Flowers label, is available on Amazon US and UK.
Listenability: A fascinating themed compilation.