French composer and violinist, Lucien Durosoir [1878-1955], wrote three string quartets. Much of his music was not performed during his lifetime and the quartets were discovered by his son, Luc, after his death. One of the great thrills in writing this blog is in the discovery of an obscure composer, whose work really touches me. Such is the case with Durosoir.
String Quartet No. 3 was written in 1933-34 and is in three movements. The work opens with a steady cello and brilliantly positive violin melodies. It’s so French you can smell the croissants and coffee. A slightly subdued passage is overtaken by the sound of charming melodies and a hint of pizzicato. The violins have a slight gypsy-like nature. This extended opening section is a beautiful piece of writing. Suddenly the mood bursts into life, probably not unlike Paris traffic. The opening melodies then return, alternating for a time with the livelier sections. A pause brings about a thoughtful moment when the violin produces a longing melody. Again this mood is occasionally interrupted by the previous lively section. The longing violin does persist however, and the effect is wonderful. Now a new melody takes shape, bright and uninhibited, constantly probing. This feeling continues for some time. After a strong flourish, a lone violin plays the last note.
The second movement begins with a sparse, but elegant feeling. The cello anchors a wistful violin melody that promotes calm and a measured sense of abstraction. A slight rise in intensity doesn’t last and the music drifts back into serenity. This is a very quiet moment where the violin meanders, searching for a melody. A change now comes over the piece and violin melodies drift skyward and bring a rhythmic intensity for the first time. The composer won’t be pinned down as he constantly changes the atmosphere. Now the abstraction returns, very light and airy. The violins float and a slightly serious texture is quickly dealt with, and a longing melody takes over, leading to an intangible feeling. The violins begin to build but as usual, it doesn’t last. A poignant mood concludes the movement.
The final movement has a steady pulse and is of a slightly serious nature; again, a little chaotic and abstract. There is a violin motif that quite often returns. As before, there are many moods, most of them are also revisited. Eventually it gives way to a pleasant violin interlude, before reintroducing the pulse and the chaos. There is a hint of melodic development of the earlier motif by a strange sounding violin, it’s an almost strangled sound. The opening feeling returns and is developed for a time. Now a completely new section is introduced; abstract and sparse. The cello laments as the violins continue to drift with thin melodies. This is the most melancholic moment in the whole quartet and is sustained until the end, leaving us with a feeling of sadness.
This quartet, along with the two earlier works, show Durosoir as being uniquely French, to the extent of evoking memories of Debussy and Ravel. Having said that, his quartets are also unique, both in the use of form and harmony. Despite his influences, the composer is definitely his own man. Added to this, all three quartets are quite different in character. Listening to No. 1 while writing, I can tell that it has a harder edge to it than No. 3.
The review CD is available as Durosoir: Quatuors a cordes or String Quartets 1-3, on the Alpha label, performed by Quatuor Diotima, on Amazon US and Presto Classical. This CD is on Spotify but I couldn’t find it anywhere else.
Listenability: A terrific recording of three fine works by a very individualistic composer, paradoxically steeped in the French tradition.