This is a fascinating compilation performed by the Edinburgh Quartet. I shall attempt to do it justice. There are works by four composers on the disc.
James Clapperton is featured with his The Great Divorce for String Quartet, a one-movement work, running for about 16 minutes. It opens with wistful violins that set up a beautiful mood for the cello to provide random melodic statements. This is fabulous writing, very longing. Slight changes occur in the style of the violins which lead to different moods. A dissonant note hangs in the air and precipitates a section which is a little more serious. The piece is minimalistic in its progress; things do not happen very quickly. A sparsity moves into some melodic development, the violins are truly wonderful. Slowly, an emotional intensity is building with the cello thickening the harmonic texture. Suddenly, the music becomes dance-like, but not for long. We are now drawn briefly back into sparsity. A lone violin makes intermittent melancholic statements and after a time the other strings prance above and around this melancholia. The juxtaposition of a longing, sparse violin, together with busier strings, makes for a compelling section. The cello creates a plaintive statement, all the while accompanied by the sweeping violins. A solo violin passage concludes the piece. This is a stunning soundscape.
An unnamed string quartet by Judith Weir is in three movements. A slow but intense opening features effective use of microtones as it paints an abstract, slightly bleak atmosphere. A lift in intensity brings with it a rhythmic framework as the cello punches out phrases, while the violins continue with chromatic flourishes. They reach for the sky as the cello becomes more dissonant. The violins take over now, and the end comes as a note hangs in the air.
The second movement begins with a stilted rhythmic motif played by the whole ensemble. The violins then begin to express themselves, while the motif can still be heard in the background. It’s a very interesting sound. The cello now begins to become involved in the melodic development and the mood changes for a time. Then the opening motif reappears with the violins playing in a sparse fashion. The end is one iteration of the motif.
The final movement is quite short and starts with a violent flourish, which is soon overtaken by a prancing violin section. It’s very light and airy, although tension develops as it moves forward. There is much dissonance here and it finishes when you least expect it, leaving you hanging there. This is a fine, contemporary work.
Another one-movement quartet, titled The Cold Dancer, is by Kenneth Dempster. It has a very rhapsodic opening with many twists and turns; it’s powerful music. It gradually subsides and then moves into another rhapsodic section where the violins are very busy. The mood gives way to a rhythmic passage which leads into a violin duet. This is quite atonal and varies in intensity. A calm comes over the work as the cello sustains long notes and the violins become quite lyrical for a time. A further change invokes stabbing violin notes and a chaotic musical soundscape. I’m only halfway through and I’ve never come across a piece with so many mood changes! The violins pretend to fall away only to return with much vigour. A new section has a very prominent violin part as the violins play with string sound effects and a chromatic feeling. As the ending approaches we have very high violin notes that fade into the distance.
The fourth work on the CD is a three-movement quartet by William Sweeney. I won’t be discussing this at present, mostly because it runs for 36 minutes but it does sound promising.
I rather like some of these themed compilations. They are not like many CDs which have, stylistically, two totally unrelated string quartets on them. The works on this disc seem to share some sense of commonality of texture, even though they are all quite different.
This CD, on the Delphian label, performed by the Edinburgh Quartet is available at Amazon US and UK as The Cold Dancer. It can be heard on Spotify.
Listenability: A very interesting mixture of contemporary sounds.