VADIM SALMANOV – String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2

Russian composer Vadim Salmanov [1912-1978] wrote six string quartets, from 1945 to 1971. Each quartet is more modern than its predecessor, leading the moods from gentle and sparse to a very modern No. 6.

I am going to discuss quartets Nos. 1 and 2.

The first quartet contains four movements. It opens with a minor key chordal passage. When this concludes, two violins enter, then the cello. The music is very sparse. A minor fanfare reintroduces the feeling of the opening. It is very stately with long tones and becomes a bit chaotic with the use of atonal melodies. The section continues to the conclusion. This is extremely powerful music.

The second movement is marked allegro and is very rhythmic. After a time, it becomes even more so for a brief section. Now all goes quiet before the impetus returns. The violins maintain the pace; they are very busy. A series of staccato chords leads into a slightly chaotic passage as the violins conduct a dialogue. The movement fades out.

The next movement begins with string sound effects which linger in the air. This is very sparse as a lone violin plays over a quiet cello for a time. Finally all of the voices are heard and we have an attractive, sparse, conversational section. A hint of pizzicato leads into a crescendo. The music remains very loud as chords punctuate the mood; it is another very serious section. The tension slowly drains away and a lone violin backed with pizzicato produces a wonderful melody. The tempo is very slow here and the ending is particularly quiet. Quite a beguiling movement, really.

The final movement, marked allegro, has the violins soaring with string sound effects in abundance. The tempo is very brisk and all instruments seem to have an equally important role. The intensity is maintained and leads to a shimmering violin passage. The cello is very full in tone and plays a significant role. Finally, nearing the end, the music becomes oh, so peaceful and a very quiet passage finishes the piece.

There is something mysteriously intangible about this piece for which I cannot seem to find the right words. Oh well.

The second quartet is, on the whole, quite peaceful. It contains many attractive sounds. Beginning with gentle violins, it often moves into the high register. A tempo is introduced and the violins sustain a wonderful mood. After a pause and a brief violin flourish, we have more peace. A solo cello converses with the violins, before setting them free again. Suddenly, an intense chordal passage is injected, however it only has a brief part to play. Then it is back to the soft cello and the longing violins. Another crescendo comes out of nowhere and there is much activity. It doesn’t last and we are taken back to the violins and quiet cello. As the end nears, the violin lightens its mood and, together with the second violin lead the movement to a gentle conclusion.

The second movement begins with a pizzicato accompaniment and the violin is very agitated. Settling into a rhythm, the two violins propel the music forward. A solo section takes over, just two violins for a time; this is quite melancholy. Now we are back into tempo, with almost manic violins leading the way. The passage is full of chordal punctuation. A change in tonality leads to a crescendo. Then the violins strut over the pulse. Now all is peaceful again. A solo violin plays its lament and the second violin comes in to conclude.

This movement is a little schizophrenic. It contains music of great beauty, together with some aggressive passages.

The final movement starts with a solo cello in the low register. Slowly, some string sound effects appear, leading to a very sombre mood. The violin makes its entry, conversing with the cello. This is a most enthralling section. The intensity slowly increases and the violin rises above the ensemble. A change in tonality leads to a different mood, however the violin still dominates. Now the cello enters with great force, leading to a crescendo with the violin eventually prevailing. The intensity drops back to nothing and the cello burbles in the background while the violins feature with beguiling melodies. There is a touch of atonality in this relatively quiet section which ultimately leads into a solo violin passage. The sparse feeling lifts for a time, only to return to two violins gently sounding over the cello to conclude the piece.

This is fabulous music. I may discuss some of Salmanov’s more modern works in the future.

These works are available on Amazon UK and US as The Complete String Quartets Volumes 1 & 2 on the Northern Flowers label, by the Taneyev String Quartet. Vol. 1 contains Quartets 1-3. The whole six quartets are available on Spotify and earsense, with several single movements on YouTube.

Listenability: Fine, mysterious works.


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