The first four of Polish composer Krzysztof Meyer's string quartets
are handily gathered together for this, the fourth and final volume in the
Wieniawski Quartet's recording for Naxos of the composer's complete
quartets, of which there are thirteen to date. Volume 1 came out in 2009;
see review of volume 2
. The Quartet's four members are drawn from the ranks of
Polish Radio's Amadeus Chamber Orchestra, themselves veterans of numerous
recordings for Polish label CD Accord in particular. Volume 4 sees their
most confident and persuasive interpretations of Meyer.
Meyer is a published authority on both Lutosławski and
Shostakovich, whose unfinished opera The Gambler
Shostakovich's influence can be felt in the quartets, albeit in some more
than others. The four works heard here span a decade or so of high
modernism, and it is Lutosławski and especially Meyer's teacher
Krzysztof Penderecki whose presence is greater here. On the other hand, it
is worth bearing in mind that Meyer had already completed twelve Quartets
before Penderecki had even got to his Third.
Meyer has a fondness too for Bartók's chamber music, and one
fruitful way of characterising these early quartets would be as works that
Bartók himself might have written, had he lived another 25 years.
Like Penderecki, Meyer dabbled in avant-garde techniques and forms in the
early stages of his career, before eventually taking a greater interest in
art music's rich, vast heritage. In general, his quartets are complex and
wrought, with a distinctive eastern European voice expressive of melancholy
and hope, restlessness and emptiness, darkness with glimpses of light.
The first four, though undeniably modernist in outlook, are not
especially experimental, although - as with Bartók's six - they are
not places to look for flowing melodies or consonant harmonies. 'Screechy'
passages are few and far between and, whilst the writing dips in and out of
atonality, it never roams far from the more readily recognisable language of
older Polish contemporaries and predecessors like Weinberg, Bacewicz and
Szymanowski. Indeed, in some of the more reflective movements, like the
slow, calm finale of the Third Quartet or the first part of the long
'ostinato' middle of the Fourth, he is arguably as approachable as any of
None of these are first recordings - the Wilanów Quartet
recorded the first twelve, initially in the Nineties on Pro Viva (still
available online, though not widely) with the Eleventh and Twelfth appearing
three or four years ago on the Polish Acte Préalable label (AP0146).
There have been one or two other recordings of individual Quartets too, but
as a body Meyer's Quartets - like his equally significant Symphonies - have
yet to be taken up as they should be, more widely. These are important and
substantial works that belong in every serious contemporary quartet's
Richard Whitehouse again supplies the notes, bone-dry and academic
but detailed and intelligent. They take the reader on a literally
descriptive journey through the works, ignoring the emotional impact of
Meyer's writing. Sound quality is very good - the close miking of previous
volumes has been adjusted to provide more comfortable listening. Anyone
considering only a single-volume investment will be well rewarded with this
one. There is, by the way, some fantastic string writing from Meyer on an
orchestral scale available in his sinister-sounding, similar-vintage Violin
Concerto op.12, recently made available again by the multi-genre label
Polskie Nagrania (PNCD 1298). Alongside Meyer's work, superb soloist Roman
Lasocki also performs Grazyna Bacewicz's final Violin Concerto (no.7),
allowing the listener to identify stylistic connections.
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