LEX Van DELDEN – Willink Tetraptych

Contemporary Dutch composer Lex Van Delden [1919 – 1988] wrote three string quartets. I shall be discussing Nos. 1 and 3.

The First Quartet, written in 1954, opens with a prominent cello which underpins the violin’s melodic development. The mood is one of gentle agitation, and abstraction in the violin melodies. It doesn’t last and we are soon into a rubato feeling with intermittent musings. The feeling of the introduction returns and quite animated discussions take place. The solo violin soars for a while, before returning to the ensemble. A lamenting passage is introduced by the cello, but the status quo is soon resumed, this time becoming slightly more energised. It ends in this fashion.

The next movement features a very resonant cello before the violins duet, again in a rubato fashion. There are some shimmering sounds in the background and a harmonised resonant cello leads into another sparse space. Very high harmonics from a violin make for a short interlude before some pizzicato emerges and the music adopts a more serious tone. A new mood has just the violins, before the cello gently eases in, way down in its lower register. Quivering violins allow the cello to craft a lamenting melody, which fades out.

The third movement is a pizzicato romp which leads into a slow passage; it’s barely moving. A very mild sense of abstraction ensues, it seems to be the composer’s modus operandi. Now we have a return to pizzicato, then the violins make a short statement leading to the end, which is a pizzicato flourish.

A presto tempo opens the final movement which leads to the most chaos yet encountered. Again, it doesn’t last and we are back into a lamenting phase where the violins exchange sometimes ethnic-sounding lines. Now it is about rhythm for a time and this segues into a nervous viola pattern with scant violin melodies in evidence. The dynamics and intensity rise, but again it is only for a time. The ensemble deliver up an ostinato, allowing the violins to meander. Different sections come and go regularly, finally leading into one which finishes on a strong chord.

This is the music I was born to listen to. I just love its intangible, introspective soundscapes.

On to the Third Quartet. Titled Willink tetraptych and written in 1979, it was inspired by a work of fantastic realist Dutch artist Albert Carel Willink. A tetraptych is a group of four paintings or pieces of art placed together, or next to each other and displayed as one. The quartet consists of four named movements, likely corresponding to the set of four paintings.

Anteaters – This short movement opens with a strong, slightly dissonant melody before moving into some pizzicato statements and scurryings. The violin returns and is followed by the ensemble with some slightly longing melodies over a calm background. There are dissonant shimmering violins followed by some rhythmic statements with a serene violin in its highest register, sustaining a very quiet wispy note. The ensemble stops, leaving the violin to continue with the note to the end.

The Superfluous Witness – A busy introduction to this movement soon subsides to a whisper, before picking up the dynamics again. After some dissonant action there are a series of long pauses, interrupted by some ensemble interjections. Now the cello goes into pizzicato and another short pause ensues. I just realised that these pauses are not silences, they are inaudible spaces. Some quivering violins form a melodic phrase and rhythmic interjections follow. Again we are back with that sustained note from the previous movement, to conclude.

Mrs Fopma – A very measured section introduces this movement. Fascinating harmonised melodies form; it is a wonderful mood, with touches of mild dissonance. The cello makes melodic statements and finally, goes solo. Now the violins return, similar to the opening section. The dynamics slowly increase and the melodic statements become more assertive. A solo violin soars over this passage before it returns to the opening mood again. This quiet abstraction is sustained, with the cello being prominent near the end, which is two soft cello notes.

The Eternal Scream – The finale is not as frantic as its title may suggest. It is busy however, and dissonant motifs overlay a sparse violin melody. The cello leads for a short time until the mood dissipates, leading into an almost rubato section. Another pause introduces a charming, mildly dissonant harmonised violin line. Now that solo note recurs and is ended by more interjections, softer this time. This is reminiscent of the previous movement and ends with a similar mood.

Van Delden has certainly worked out his style; there is so much measured abstraction in these works, but they are sublime. Another characteristic is never standing still, the music is always moving on.

The review CD titled Delden: Complete String Quartets, on the MDG label, is performed by the Utrecht String Quartet and is available on Amazon UK. The three quartets are all on YouTube and earsense.

Listenability: Fascinating controlled, gently abstract works. Very entertaining.


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