Polish born Contemporary Canadian composer Norbert Palej [born 1977] has written two string quartets. The first, titled De Profundis (From the Depths), is in one movement.
The work opens with a sustained violin tone, before moving into a stilted rhythmic pattern performed by the ensemble. The violin darts furtively, bringing about a pause in the rhythm and two violins express in an alluring lamenting passage – this is heavenly music. Gradually the viola enters with solid statements, all the while preserving this wonderful sound. Now the cello is heard and the violins become even more expressive. A series of rhythmic punctuations is brief and leads to a violin and cello dialogue. More interjections bring a further intensity to the music. Earlier feelings are revisited until a sense of chaos emerges with dissonant sounds from first the violins, and then the solo cello.
The cello underpins a droning section with a violin projecting an ethnic, modal sound. Both instruments are in their low registers, expressing a rich texture. A new, spacious feeling is introduced with some intense dialogue between instruments, leading to a very powerful sound. Again we have the rhythmic punctuations, which always act as brief interludes between sections. A sombre mood unfolds with the shrillest of violins expressing evocatively over a mournful background. The violin returns to a lower register for a time and the sound is now sparse, with occasional rhythmic thrusts.
This time they persist, while the violins take flight with aggressive bow strokes. There is an implied jerky tempo, which is not always fully expressed. The violins turn to strong, ascending and somewhat dissonant lines before mellowing, leading to another lamenting dialogue. Slowly a sweetness arises – the violins being positively magnificent here. The tempo has long passed, and the violins begin to assert themselves again with agitated lines, which don’t last as the peace is restored.
A sense of great beauty unfolds, albeit briefly, as the ensemble then project great intensity. As the end approaches, the tempo ebbs and flows and another agitated dialogue begins to form. Dissonant violin lines create a deal of tension and a final sustained chord is characterised by each instrument entering in turn.
The review CD contains a Second Quartet by Palej, a most satisfying work, with occasional passages featuring the soprano voice of Leslie Fagan singing wordless melodic lines, to great effect. There is also another piece, the Third Quartet of Krzysztof Penderecki, titled Leaves of an Unwritten Diary.
This CD, titled De Profundis on the Video Music label and performed by the Penderecki String Quartet is available at Amazon US and UK.
I have previously discussed a quartet titled De Profundis by Greek composer George Kontogiorgos, and interestingly, Penderecki has written an orchestral piece with the same title.
Listenability: Wonderful, non-confronting Contemporary works.