German composer Manfred Trojahn [born 1949] wrote at least six string quartets. His work is in a fairly modern style and of the two string quartets on this CD, Nos. 3 and 4, I have chosen No. 4 to discuss as it is a little milder than No. 3.
This four-movement work opens with a dissonant four-note arpeggio, with each instrument playing a different note. After a pause, a similar, descending arpeggio is heard. There are a lot of silences within the music, leading to many gaps. The ensemble now moves into tempo with a harmonic backdrop that allows the violin to craft a sparse melody. Another pause ensues. Some gentler arpeggios are heard and the violin searches to find a melody of substance, while the cello and second violin evoke an abstract mood. This is followed by a brief dissonant intrusion and another pause, which turns out to be the movement conclusion!
The short second movement is very busy, but not too intense. The instruments scuttle about, sometimes very softly; at other times, moderately loud. A series of dissonant chords interrupts the proceedings briefly before the busy feeling returns. The dissonant chords are repeated until a most harmonious chord gives way to some rhythmic phrases which end the movement.
The next movement, marked lento, begins ever so quietly, with sustained tones. Melodies slowly emerge as the cello keeps the sustain going. A solo violin passage commences and the cello adds a few notes to the feeling. Now all of the instruments involve themselves in a most attractive mood. Long melodies appear; this is a very deep feeling. A pause occurs and a layer of string sound effects allows a sombre violin melody to develop. The cello plays a persistent phrase as the violin, way up in the high register, fades out.
The final movement is very spirited. All four instruments converse in a slightly chaotic dialogue. There is theme to be found in here, I know it! Now a succession of flourishes give way to a charming melody. It could be an English country garden. The violin exchanges phrases with ensemble interjections but it is still very pleasant, with a very light feeling. A brief chaotic passage breaks the mood and the cello takes over with string harmonics sounding in the background. This morphs into more chaos until the violins make light, abstract sounds before finishing with a full chord.
I can’t pin this piece down. It’s definitely different. There are no cliches or any recognisable influences here, as far as I can tell. I couldn’t find any of Trojahn’s other quartets anywhere. I may discuss No. 3 at another time.
I should also mention that there are two further works on the CD. Firstly, there is a six-piece suite, Fragmente für Antigone which is an assortment of modern moods. There is also an interesting, dramatic 10-minute piece titled Lettera amorosa- No. 6. Chant d’insomnie III. (Song to Insomnia III) which is (and I quote) ‘the penultimate movement of the seven movement score Lettera amorosa (Love letter) for 2 sopranos, 2 violins and string quartet‘. There are definitely no sopranos heard in the piece; I believe it to be a string quartet transcription.
This CD, titled String Quartets, on the Neos label and performed by the Henschel Quartett, is available on Amazon UK and Presto Classical. It is on Spotify and both Quartets Nos. 3 and 4 can be heard on YouTube and earsense.
Listenability: Mildly modern, slightly eccentric and very listenable.