VINCENT d’INDY – String Quartet No. 1

French composer Vincent d’Indy [1851-1931] wrote three string quartets. Interestingly, he had an asteroid, (11530 d’Indy), named after him in 1992.

String quartet No. 1 has four movements and opens with a stark statement played by the ensemble before the solo violin takes over. The statement reappears and the ensemble return with some elegant, slightly longing, chordal passages. There is a strange absence of melody within these chords. When it does come, it is ever so subtle. The cello sets the piece into a tempo; now it’s the violins leading the way. The music bubbles along until a key change ushers in a quiet section. From this emerges some strong melodies, the first encountered so far. The cello is particularly fine in this section and leads the quartet into a minor tonality. This is an intense phase and the dynamics change freely several times before settling. The mood changes as the cello leads into a faster tempo, almost racing. The end is in sight. Complex chords and rhythms abound in this section which concludes on a chord. The engineers were really getting into the reverb on this one. I noticed it in the staccato opening and it is even more obvious at the end, with a long delay on the last chord.

The second movement, marked lent (see lento), is the emotional centrepiece of the work. It starts with a sparse minor mood, the violin gently washing over the ensemble. The viola takes over and a tempo slowly emerges. The violins return with a bright, but calm melody. The tension is palpable even though the music is gentle. A brief loud passage eases into a quiet cello melody and a key change back to the major tonality. Overlapping melodies abound here with the viola being prominent. The cello takes over for a shared conclusion. This is indeed fascinating, beautiful music.

The next movement begins in a folk-like manner at a slow tempo. Suddenly the viola takes up a dancing rhythm. A change in tonality brings the tempo back; the melodies are still folk-like. Then it is the violin’s turn to lead the dance. The skipping pace is provided by the viola and cello and the violins are skittish above them. The tempo pauses, and harmonised melodies abound. Another wonderful movement.

The final movement begins with a longing violin. Things happen very slowly here. Occasional interjections by the other instruments gradually build the mood into something tangible. It is two minutes before anything like a pulse is felt. Breaking into tempo, the mood is dance-like for a time. After a brief pause, the tempo returns and the mood is quite buoyant and the dynamics rise and fall, all the while retaining the tempo. A new, slower passage begins with the cello being especially prominent. As the piece progresses it recalls the mood of the first movement. There are lots of sweeping (and swooping) violins. It races to its conclusion. Marvellous!

I have the three quartets, together with a string sextet, by Quatuor Joachim on Caliope. This version appears to be in a state of uncertainty re availability. Quartets 1 & 2 are still available by the Kodaly Quartet on Marco Polo. The first is also paired with Chausson’s only quartet (reviewed July 2016,) by the Chilingirian Quartet on Heliope. Something I hadn’t known about the Chausson was that it was incomplete when he died. Vincent d’Indy completed the third movement.

The Kodaly is on Spotify and several d’Indy quartets are on YouTube. All three quartets can be found on earsense.

Listenability:  Unashamedly French Romantic music.


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