WITOLD MALISZEWSKI – String Quartet No. 3

Russian-born Polish Late Romantic composer Witold Maliszewski [1873–1939] wrote three string quartets. The review CD contains the First and Third quartets – I have selected No. 3 for discussion. It is a lengthy work, with the first movement containing over half of that length.

The quartet begins with lilting melodies interspersed with sweet chords, indicative of its Late Romantic origins. The music edges forward with sporadic violin lines, totally lacking in cohesion, but this feature has its own attraction as the mood is very evocative. Now a tempo is introduced, a salient cello serving as the springboard for the violins to muse lyrically. A gentle pizzicato invokes a rapid tempo and the violins are conversational, and appealing. A further, extended pizzicato section is comprised of several instruments, but it gradually dissolves, giving way to a mood similar to the opening, with lyrical violins played in a rubato manner. This transforms into a strangely pulsing cello motif, which lingers before pausing, only to return again. The cello now initiates a dialogue with the violins and a brisk tempo unfolds. This movement features many brief pauses, invariably leading to significant changes in texture.

At times the music seems somewhat laboured, at other times quite expressive. A particularly rhythmically static passage stands out. The violins return to a lyrical character and I am beginning to realise that this movement has become very gentle, with elegant violin and cello melodic lines played without a tempo. The Romantic nature is strong, with nary a note out of place as the mood continues in a gentle manner, seemingly more measured than the opening. A harmonic change to a minor tonality appears near the end and the music becomes more introspective as the dominant feature is the cello walking, which slowly leads to two quiet chords to conclude.

The next movement, marked andante tranquillo (calm and relaxed) is quietly pastoral, and based on a very limited harmonic structure. A descending arpeggio brings forth a conversational passage, with the violins in a dialogue with a pizzicato viola. The music now progresses into a tempo, with the violins still conversing – there is little impetus for a time until the cello begins to bobble along as the violins continue their melodic development. A further descending arpeggio, rapidly followed by another leads in to the first occurrence of intensity heard thus far. Again the harmonies are very conservative with a folk-like feeling evident at times. A trilling violin accompanies a pizzicato cello to the end.

The final movement is again trivial harmonically, as the composer presents gentle melodies, even at tempo. The violins play a moderate tempo but it is a while before the cello emerges to support that mood. A solo violin passage is rhythmically complex, and is eventually rejoined by the ensemble which brings forth a dramatic increase in the tempo, easily the fastest heard in the work. A vibrancy now ensues that is sustained for some time, with the violins being particularly busy. Surprisingly, a further increase in tempo occurs as the work positively races, before moving into a final, quiet section with the cello expressing gently over sparse violin tones.

Composed in 1914, this work bears no evidence of the prevailing musical climate, but looks backwards, possibly even to elements of the Classical era. It is a charming, blatantly Romantic piece with all of the conservative elements of that style, but none of the more dramatic elements evident.

The review CD, titled Witold Maliszewski: Chamber Works Vol. 2 and performed by the Four Strings Quartet on the Polish Acte Préalable label, is available from Amazon US and Presto Classical – Amazon UK has Volume 1.

I could only find one listening source for this work and that was on YouTube. Unfortunately this version is a synthesised version – thanks to Kai from earsense for pointing this out. I am amazed that I didn’t notice it – I have rejected several synth versions in the past – at least you will get an idea of how it sounds and the pretty pictures are still there!

Listenability: Characteristically conservative Late Romantic quartet.


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