LEONARD SALZEDO – The Fifth Quartet

British Modern composer Leonard Salzedo [1921–2000] wrote ten string quartets. Five have been recorded – I am hoping that some more will turn up as I am very fond of his quartet style. The Fifth Quartet, from 1952, is in two movements.

The work opens with one sustained violin note, until a second voice joins it with mildly dissonant harmonies. A period of sustained flourishes follows but we are soon back to the opening, and a somewhat morose mood. Two violins wander over a sustained background and express piercing lines, replete with some virtuosic flourishes. A pause allows for a more meditative section where harmonised lines interact with violin melodies. The music becomes even more sedate, revealing a longing soundscape. The violin mellows and a plaintive solo section contains several searching melodies. Now a gently abstract background appears as the solo violin continues its journey. A warm ensemble phrase allows the violin to finish in a considered manner. This movement is quite fascinating, the contrast being quite vast, with a lot of musical ground covered.

The second movement, marked lentissimo (lento) features an organ-like texture and strange, mystical sustained chords support a particularly shrill modal violin sound. The background strengthens and the violin goes with it. A brief pause leads to a complete change in mood as a continuous melodic motif sets up a tempo, and moves through various rhythmic possibilities. The music now drops back to the motif before a new mood arises. Over a simple accompaniment of viola and cello, the violins rise up, creating a fascinating sense of tension, as their other-worldly lines interact. A return to simplicity has one violin expressing over an ever changing harmonic background. The second violin eventually joins in and a new harmony is introduced.

I know it is strange but the harmonies sound as if they were from some 1960s pop song, they are that simple – alternating between two major chords a tone apart. This has to be just coincidental as such music wasn’t common in 1952. There may be something of a folk nature here as the composer was of Spanish descent.

The simple soon becomes complex and more vigorous with the violins and cello in a deep dialogue. String sound effects can be heard before the music moves into a pulsating crescendo, which relents and we are led into another modal passage. The cello is particularly evident as it thrusts the music forward, allowing the violins to have a great degree of freedom, with many dissonant lines heard. This is a very powerful section.

A pause brings a new mood, one that sounds distinctly Spanish. The ensemble pushes the tempo hard as the violins turn melodic for a time but the impetus starts to be overwhelming. Now all instruments forge powerfully forward and the conclusion is simply chaotic in its intensity.

I am also very fond of the First and Tenth quartets on this CD, they are both quite different from the Fifth. The review CD, titled Salzedo: String Quartets, performed by the Archaeus Quartet, is on the MPR label. This is available at Amazon US and UK. There was a disc containing Nos. 2 and 7, which appears to have been deleted but can still be obtained as New and Used.

The review CD is on Spotify, earsense and YouTube.

Listenability: Fascinating mid-century works.


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