I admit I find it hard to concentrate for any amount of time on much twentieth-century chamber music.Largely, this is due to my having the attention span of a gnat; partly, it’s because I often find the music repetitious and unengaging. But I must also admit I found the three pieces on this Cedille album fascinating and appealing, particularly in the hands of the Pacifica Quartet, fascinating and appealing enough to keep me seated between the speakers for over an hour.
The three composers involved are roughly contemporaneous, the works coming from the period as the title says “Between the Wars.” Certainly, the First World War changed the entire world in general as well as the world of music. Mainly gone was the lush, lyrical Romanticism of the nineteenth century, replaced by the more daring, more experimental, sometimes atonal, sometimes disharmonic music of the twentieth. The Janacek, Seeger, and Hindemith pieces come from a period less than a decade apart, from 1922 to 1931, and they reflect a new age.
Of the three works, the opening one, Janacek’s String Quartet No. 2 from 1928, is the most traditional. Called “Intimate Letters,” its four movements convey the composer’s feelings toward a loved one in his life, an affair beyond his marriage that he may or may not have consummated but according to his letters was apparently quite intense. The music alternates between strong, dramatic emotion, tranquil contemplation, and not a little melanchoy, some changes of moods occurring within seconds, which the Pacifica Quartet are quick to relay to the listener.
The Seeger piece from 1931 that follows, simply called String Quartet, is more atmospheric and moody, most of it sounding eerily sinister in its minimalist tone. The final work, Paul Hindemith’s String Quartet No. 4 is the earliest of the compositions, premiered in 1922, and it is perhaps the most unconventional of the trio in that it can sound both modern and Romantic by turns; but, ironically, it is also the freer in its composer’s flowing, unscheduled, yet strict musical notations.
The Pacifica Quartet--Brandon Vamos, Simin Ganatra, Masumi Per Rostad, and Sibbi Bernhardsson--play with a welcome finesse and intense enthusiasm. And the Cedille engineers--Judith Sherman and Bill Maylone--capture the sound quite realistically, with a strong sense of presence and without a trace of forwardness. For fans of chamber music or for folks looking toward something a little different, Declarations makes an arresting listen.
To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here: