Italian Modern composer Luciano Simoni [born c. 1938?] wrote nine string quartets. His Second Quartet, titled Oltre la vita (Over the life) was written in 1975-1976 and contains four movements.
The work commences out of character with the composer’s general style. A sense of tension is developed as the violins express scything melodic lines. A brief violin duet passage quickly evolves into a pulsing cello passage. Now the violins regroup and present a more introspective section, before the cello returns to its ostinato and the violins respond with a vigour not commonly found on this CD. A persistent sense of tension pushes the music forward to an end on a moderate flourish.
The next movement, marked adagio religioso is just that, and for ten minutes, my world changes. Right from the opening notes, this music develops a wonderful transcendent feeling. Lamenting, rubato melodic lines are not too morose but an inherent sense of moderate sadness is to be found here. However the music also brings hope with some positive melodies as it begins to move into a tempo. A sweeping section is short, but profound, before a return to the tempo brings forth some rich harmonised chords. Now, a sense of urgency develops as the violins push the tempo, albeit with an airy expression. That the violins are able to maintain the deeply reflective mood for so long is a tribute to this composer’s craft. Slightly dissonant chords become ever so sparse as the music edges forward with an ethereal nature that could be held together by the delicate strands of spider webs. A touch of pizzicato brings about a false ending, and, after a brief pause, this magnificent movement breathes its last.
The third movement has some of the vigour of the first and the instruments ask questions of each other, in a communicative manner. The texture of the violin tones, coupled with the cello, make for a fascinating, prancing passage. Now some rich chords introduce a gentle ostinato, which is frequently interrupted by mournful violin expressions. There is an abstraction here that is not found elsewhere in the work. Led by a persistent cello, the violins make for a subdued finish.
The final movement evokes the previous adagio as the violins weep their way through a most introverted section. Rich melodies make for a wonderful passage that moves into a moderate tempo which sets the violins free. A pause allows the ensemble to regroup and poignant violin lines remind me of some long-forgotten piece. This is also music that is barely held together by threads and when they dissolve, the music concludes.
I must admit to always enjoying hearing a new composer that operates out of his place in time. In 1975-1976 the string quartet repertoire was mostly of a confrontational nature. This music has no time frame, just a composer steeped in uniquity. For me, some of this music has the flavour of Lekeu’s one string quartet – high praise indeed. It is hard to believe that this is the first time any of Simoni’s quartets have been recorded.
The other two quartets on the CD, Nos.6 and 8 are also magnificent. The Eighth Quartet is marked Performed with Harpsichord obligato. The substituted piano, while appearing to be only associated with one of the three movements, adds a wonderful sense of colour to the passages where it is heard.
The review CD, Luciano Simoni: Chamber Music is performed by the Ensemble Respighi on the Tactus label. As it was only released on May 3, 2019 it hasn’t even made it to Amazon US or UK yet, except in MP3 download format. However, the CD is available from Presto Classical.
Listenability: My favourite kinds of music, introspective bordering on the spiritual.