PETER FRICKER – British Modernism – SQ No. 3

British composer Peter Racine Fricker [1920-1990] wrote three string quartets. His Third Quartet was composed during 1975-1976 and is in five movements.

The work commences in a strange sound space. A violin plays slow, dissonant lines over a background of string sound effects and various dissonant interjections from the ensemble. There is an intermittent strummed cello along with the use of glissando. This atmosphere continues for some time. Eventually we have some slightly jaunting, but intense, harmonised random violin melodies as the second violin comes into play. The ensemble is now definitely more measured, with a lot less dissonance. It is still a passive mood, however. The first violin leads the ensemble with some strange melodic lines; at times the cello repeats an ostinato motif in support. The first violin is now very prominent over a measured ensemble. Ever changing, but always passive, the movement fades with a sparse solo violin. This is a strange movement, definitely modern music.

The second short movement, at just under two minutes, opens with a rhythmically punctuated chordal texture. A violin has a sweeping statement to make, over a supportive ensemble, before the opening rhythmic passage returns. It now moves into a short passage of chaos, and concludes with a return to the opening feeling.

An adagio begins the third movement in a call and response pattern, with sparse, ascending solo violin lines being answered by the ensemble, which is in a much lower register. Eventually the ensemble steps forward to create a stunning mood. Now we are into pure rubato and the violin soars over intermittent ensemble passages. The feeling is constant; pure abstract beauty.

The next movement, again very brief, opens with some incisive rhythmic statements. Then the violins move into a skittish feeling as they dance above the ensemble for a time. A hint of the opening is recalled; this time it is very dynamic. There are some dramatic statements here. I think I’m experiencing the longest two minutes of my life. The two violins conclude by moving straight into the next movement.

The finale features the two violins from the previous movement, as they build the musical intensity. A solo cello statement ensues and some rather sharp ensemble interjections lead into a period of stasis. All instruments wander freely in this space. Now a tempo and a dynamic set in; it is quite vigorous. Then we are back into occasional statements from the cello and the violins. The mood constantly changes, but all the while being very animated. It is very modern as the different sections come and go, usually with great intensity. Now it is positively frantic as dynamic statements persist until the conclusion which has maintained the intensity and is very loud.

This is quite confronting music, containing some challenging passages. Strangely, the first two quartets are much more approachable, temperate even.

The review CD, titled Fricker: The String Quartets, on the Naxos label, is performed by the Villiers Quartet. It also contains String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2, and some minor pieces. It is available at Amazon US and UK.

This disc is on Spotify and all three quartets are on YouTube and earsense.

Listenability: This is quite Modern music, but the first two quartets are very listenable.


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