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William ZINN (b. 1924)
Works for String Quartet
Elie Wiesel (A Portrait) (2012) [18:43]
String Quartet No. 1 (1966) [24:01]
Kol Nidrei Memorial (1986) [14:06]
Wihan Quartet (Leoš Čepický (violin); Jan Schulmeister (violin); Jiří Žigmund (viola); Aleš Kaspřík (cello))
rec. no details provided
NIMBUS NI6256 [56:50]

American composer William Zinn has written for a richly diverse array of forces, his work list is now extensive, and as a violinist he has an executant-composer’s acuteness as to the appropriateness of things. The booklet cover shows him at work, as a fiddler, his somewhat ruffly shirt cuffs giving him the appearance of a benign exponent of the art of the Hungarian salon.
 
Whatever his personal inclinations as to solo repertoire as a performer – Dinicu or Ysaÿe? – as a composer his metier, if this disc is a guide, is a mellow inheritance of the standard tributaries of musical development. Elie Wiesel (A Portrait) is an impression for string quartet of Wiesel’s ‘character and accomplishments’. Wiesel was the Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1986. The portrait lasts just shy of 19 minutes and is cast in one movement though it contains sufficient columnar and repeating elements to give it fine structural bases. There is a cantorial quality here, and the prayerful soliloquies hint at an emollient compound of Achron and Bloch. The sonorous quartet writing is very much in the Classical tradition however, and the recording quality projects it very forwardly. The single line monologues and the corporate biography of the whole quartet seem to attest to the many rich strands of Wiesel’s life, a life both stark and valiant.
 
The String Quartet No.1 was written in 1966 and is cast in four movements. It was the death of the cellist in Zinn’s own quartet, Benjamin De Miranda, which inspired the writing. This In Memoriam is sensitively wrought but not overwrought expressively. There are droll elements in the Scherzo that reflect the wit of the late cellist – the rhythm is especially infectious – whilst the third movement, called Requiem, is a flowing, fluid harmonically plangent affair that offers both delicacy and density. The sterner figures that exist act rather as an Orpheus and the Furies motif, reminding me of the slow movement of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto There’s a similar sense of conciliation in the figures and a struggle to conquer the darker shades. The finale offers the consolation and consummation of a fugato which embraces ruminative passages, both mournful and intense, and ends on a reflective though not wholly melancholy note. Elements in this quartet are unashamedly classical, almost Schubertian.
 
Finally there is Kol Nidrei Memorial in which the themes are repeated variously five times. The novelty resides in the different combinations in which it recurs. The writing is warm, emotive, with variations of colour and texture, ending the work with optimism.

Throughout, the Wihan Quartet proves masterly ambassadors for the music and the notes are by the composer himself.
 
Jonathan Woolf 

Previous review: Rob Barnett