American-German Modern composer Samuel Hans Adler [born 1928] has written at least ten string quartets. The Third was composed in 1953 and revised in 1964. It fits nicely into the early period of his development. Adler’s style to these ears is conservative, inhabiting a standard Western musical vision.
The Third Quartet is in four movements. The first marked allegro, opens with a stabbing, rhythmic motif that is constantly revisited throughout the movement. A pizzicato cello entry transforms the mood into one of lyricism, with a fine harmonised violin line, yielding a pastoral feeling. Now the violins speak out with powerful interjections before returning to a further lyrical passage, which is very soothing. A slightly more modern sound leads back into a main theme recapitulation, which takes us to the end.
The next movement is an adagio, and the longest in the work. A distant, sparse violin laments for several bars and is joined by the other instruments, piecemeal. A return to the opening feeling, again with a pizzicato cello is rewarding and the music works through several moods, all of them wonderful. Now a stark passage provides a serious feeling – this is a fine piece of writing for strings. Sustained cello allows for the violin to lament further, leading to a wonderful feeling of a mixture of the traditional with the modern. The end is a stunning soundscape for violin over sustained strings.
The third movement allegro scherzando (playful) evokes a feeling of Shostakovich in the lighter moments from his early quartets. An opening pizzicato is prominent, with a pulsing feeling and the viola can be heard with its own introductory statement. Contrapuntal, harmonised lines predate Shostakovich for a time and the feeling is cheery, with a lilting melodic style. There is a degree of melodic interplay and positive rhythm leading to a somewhat surprising finish.
The finale brings the first obvious sounds of modernism to be heard. Adler channels Shostakovich once more, this time the darker side, opening with a dissonant feeling of two violins clashing. Pizzicato is again prominent, with dark, rhythmic assertions. A pause brings about a brief relief from the intensity. The ensemble wanders into an evocative soundscape that is delightful, with the previous material still lurking, waiting to pounce. A return to the intensity is welcome as these are definitely 20th century sounds. The violins parry and the ensemble responds with not so subtle assertions as the violins again release the intensity for a moment before returning to the opening territory. Strong thrusts are incisive and lead to a powerful conclusion.
After having a quick scan of this composer’s other quartets, I believe that there is not such a difference in style as I first thought. All in all, these works are of a gently dissonant nature which I find appealing.
The review CD, Samuel Adler: String Quartets 3,6 & 7 and performed by several ensembles, is on the CRI label and available on Amazon US and UK.
Listenability: File under Modern, with an historically informed approach.