Austrian-born American Contemporary composer Robert Starer [1924–2001] wrote three string quartets. The first two have multiple movements while the one under discussion, the Third, is in one movement.
The work opens with a strong, rhythmic phrase, leading into a series of ensemble chords, followed by a series of violin flourishes. This passage is then repeated with different tones, which achieves a similar emotional effect. Now the two violins express in a section of pure lyricism, very beautifully. A return to the opening phrase is brief and the lyricism returns. A solo pizzicato voice introduces a soaring violin line. The pizzicato is then repeated, leading this time to some ensemble chords, out of which arises a tender, but strong violin melody. Ascending melodic lines unfold and a descending line brings about a hint of the opening phrase.
A solo cello ostinato brings forth more animated violin lines, both solo and in duet. They set up a punctuating rhythmic section which soon returns to a solo cello interlude. A pause brings a new, peaceful mood with the violins absolutely wonderful as they express poignant melodies. Reaching for the skies, this is a stunning passage as the violins constantly explore their registers, with marvellous harmonised lines. A shrill solo note pauses, and the violins now become energised. Sweeping phrases gradually diminish in intensity before an uncharacteristically stately section emerges – it positively struts.
An atmosphere of abstract peace unfolds. Delicate violin lines are very special and lead to a fine conversation between the two violins. Shrill sounds are now all that can be heard, creating a mysterious passage. Ascending lines are powerful and become harmonised to conclude this section.
Immediately a pizzicato motif brings about another change in mood as a violin expresses mournfully, gypsy-like. Strong melodies again paint a picture of profound peace, with a lamenting nature. Drifting into harmonised melodies the music edges forward, allowing the violins to freely express – this is a wonderful piece of writing. The violins conclude on two somber, sustained chords.
I really enjoyed this piece and can also recommend the earlier quartets – both contain wonderful andante movements.
The review CD, titled Robert Starer: String Quartets Nos. 1, 2, & 3 on the CRI label, and performed by the Miami Quartet is available from Amazon UK, and Amazon US resellers. Of course it can be obtained via MP3 download as well.
Listenability: Fabulous non-confronting Contemporary quartet works