American Contemporary composer Richard Danielpour [born 1956] has written at least seven string quartets. The Second Quartet is titled Shadow Dances, which consists of four named movements. Don’t be put off by the movement titles, in most cases, they don’t reflect the music, which is absolutely magnificent.
The first movement, titled Stomping Ground begins with a string fanfare before moving into a rhythmic section. A repeat of the fanfare leads to a sprightly, atonal passage. There is a constant undercurrent of rhythm and we are treated to the fanfare again. The rhythm persists but there is a sense of sparsity until the violins begin to become more expressive. This doesn’t last and a peace emerges as the violins trade attractive melodies. Now we have a return to the rhythmic action, but this doesn’t last either. Some sensitive violin melodies emerge, eventually leading to a final flourish.
The next movement, The Little Dicta, opens with a sound of shimmering strings. This evolves into a cello led rhythmic phase, with some quite dynamic chordal interludes. A return to the opening strings moves into a particularly charming short passage, which soon returns to the previous rhythmic feeling. Bowed, short, sharp notes provide the accompaniment to various melodic lines from a variety of instruments. A tender passage ensues, with occasional resolute motifs, before a fade to end.
For me, My Father’s Song, is the highlight of the quartet. A shrill violin sits beautifully with the second violin in a lower register to produce an aching feeling of beauty with no tempo. The lower violin steps forward and is transcendent, almost ethnic – this is a stunning passage. A pause introduces a new blend of the ensemble, the violins produce a yearning that you could reach out and touch. Now the cello steps forward as the violins use string sound effects. I can distinguish glissando and harmonics, but there is some other texture as well. For the first time, the use of rhythmic motifs gives the piece some forward movement. Then comes a feeling of angst from the violins as they express with strong tones, the mood is tense. A surging violin phrase propels the music forward, to a greater intensity. A pause brings about a lush abstract atmosphere as a quivering violin and cello duel. The violins return with their own duet, which is very intense, although it gradually softens and takes me to a place that I’ve not been before. The atmosphere is simply angst-ridden as the violins craft overlapping melodies. A soft, quivering violin leads to another faded passage.
The final movement, titled The Trickster, begins in a positive, propulsive manner which soon settles into an atonal feeling. Intermittent pulsating interjections are quite frantic as atonal violin lines crisscross in a firm manner. The intensity now recedes a little rhythmically but the violins are still strong. The cello is powerful here and the feeling, dynamic. There is a constancy about this passage which finally abates, leaving a solo violin to craft a short melody. A return to the rhythm seemed inevitable and a powerful harmonised violin flourish concludes the work.
I must confess to be very excited by all of these quartets. I probably tend towards the earlier works but the later works have some brilliant captivating slower movements and are still very fine.
The review CD, Richard Danielpour – String Quartets Nos. 2, 3, & 4, performed by the American String Quartet, is available on Amazon US and UK. There is a further disc which contains String Quartets Nos. 5-7, on the Naxos label, which is also freely available. I should also mention that one track on each CD contains a vocalist. They certainly don’t detract from the music in any way – in fact the string writing behind the vocals is stunning…
Listenability: Wonderful melodic work, with a touch of Modernism.