TZVI AVNI – The First Quartet

Israeli Modern composer Tzvi Avni [born 1927] wrote at least three string quartets. The First Quartet, from 1962 and titled Summer Strings, is in four relatively brief, also titled, movements.

The first, Destination opens with what could be described as a slightly inebriated version of Flight of the Bumblebee for a solo violin. It positively scurries, before going pizzicato and allowing the ensemble to enter. Jewish sounds are prominent and the movement swaps in and out of pizzicato. The melodic lines are very propulsive until a slight relief brings about the end. The abundance of action belies this movement’s rather short duration.

The next movement, Argument, has a roughly hewn solo violin sound before the ensemble joins in with further propulsive harmonised lines. A brief pause leads to an undercurrent of string sound effects as the first violin scrapes its way into the high register. Now the harmonised lines return, albeit briefly and lead into a section of deep, resonant glissandi as the cello provides throbbing support. This music is constantly changing and a further pause brings another harmonised onslaught.

Variations without Theme is by far the longest movement. Deep, guttural ensemble tones make for a myriad of strong emotions – they gradually subside, yielding to a strong, closely harmonised passage. A new sound of trilling strings is wonderfully evocative and is followed by a section of an open-sounding harmonised statement. More trills are brief, and much sparser than before. Now dissonant violin lines paint a strange soundscape as the cello muses against the trilled sound before concluding.

The final, brief Interweaving opens with a pizzicato sound conversing with an expressive violin. The pizzicato continues but various moods are evoked by the ensemble with searching melodies to be heard. A rhythmic passage drifts into a chaotic section of some intensity which ends with a flourish.

Avni can certainly say a lot in a short piece – the work runs for barely nine minutes and the emotional range is quite expansive.

This is progressive Jewish-based music, I would say more intense than I have heard from this kind of sound before. The CD also contains moving works from three further progressive, but provocative composers, Mordecai Seter, Josef Tal and Ödön Pártos. This disc, simply titled String Quartets, by the New Israel String Quartet, on the Music in Israel label, has unfortunately disappeared since I first heard it on Spotify. I could only find it as a download from iTunes.

The disc is still on Spotify, and there are several quartets on earsense and YouTube.

Listenability: Slightly confronting Jewish-based work.


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