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Leonard SALZEDO (1921-2000)
String Quartet no.1 in one movement op.1 (1942) [13:03]
String Quartet no.5 op.32 no.1 (1950-52, rev. 1995) [23:46]
String Quartet no.10 op.140 (1997) [20:15]
The Archaeus Quartet
rec. 2017, St. George's Church, Benenden, Kent, UK MPR 104 [57:16]
This is the second volume of Leonard Salzedo’s string quartets to be issued within the past 20 years. Back in 2002, Dutton Epoch issued a remarkable disc (CDLX 7113) featuring the String Quartets no.2, op.3 and no.7 op.76. Coupled with these was the Sonata for violin and viola, op.132 (review). Unfortunately, hopes that this may have been the first CD in a cycle of Salzedo’s Quartets and other chamber works have not been realised. Dutton Epoch seem to have lost enthusiasm for rare British classical music. Mike Purton’s record label released this present disc in 2018: I have just recently caught up with it. Whether this is supposed to be a harbinger of future releases of Salzedo’s music from ‘MPR’ remains to be seen.
Of great interest here is Quartet no.1, op.1. It dates from Salzedo’s time at the Royal College of Music, where he studied violin with Isolde Menges and composition with Herbert Howells. Interestingly, he had previously enjoyed composition lessons with William Lloyd Webber. The Quartet won the coveted Cobbett Prize for composition in 1942. This resulted in six performances as part of the ‘performance’ categories of the Prize. Three things can be noted about this Quartet. Firstly, Salzedo is beholden to Bach with his well-structured contrapuntal workings. This may have resulted from a contemporary performance of the St John Passion in which Salzedo had played violin. Secondly, the Quartet is written as a single movement marked ‘andante con moto’, which was a typical requirement of the Cobbett Competitions. And thirdly, the tightly controlled rhetoric of this music is manifest. This is austere music that rarely allows passion to overrule intellect. Despite this, there are some moments of intensity here and there. The formal structure is a ‘double arch’ with two climaxes.
Some important Salzedo stylistic traits first heard in this early quartet are adumbrated in the liner notes. There is a propensity to build an entire composition from a small number of phrases or motifs, often introduced at the beginning of the work. Then, there are the imaginative and inventive musical processes that these ideas are subjected to. Finally, Salzedo’s innate understanding of the media he is composing for is always apparent. This Quartet, like the others, is ideally suited to this instrumental grouping. For a composer’s early work, this Quartet is a minor masterpiece. It makes up for lack of exuberance with a deeply felt concentration that is often lyrical, but never overbearing. Leonard Salzedo decided that this Quartet no.1 would be his ‘official’ ‘Opus 1’, his first acknowledged score.
The String Quartet no.5, op.32, no.1 was composed in the early 1950s and subsequently revised in 1995. It was first heard at one of the noteworthy Macnaghten concerts in 1960. The liner notes suggest that it is one of composer’s most ‘wide-ranging and deeply personal utterances. Salzedo regarded it as one of his finest works. The Quartet seems to be divided into two sections, rather than conventional movements. It is signed ‘andante’ but seems to comprise a variety of tempi including ‘presto’. There are several moments when individual instruments play ‘eloquent’ solo parts before the mood changes and the section comes to a thoughtful conclusion. The second part of this Quartet is dominated by dance rhythms of various tempi. The liner notes explain here the composer may be ‘drawing on his Sephardic [descendants of Jewish people originally from Spain] heritage.’ Especially magical is the opening ‘lentissimo’ material. The clever bit about this Quartet is the way that Salzedo combines thematic material from the opening part of this work with these dances. The section concludes with a frenetic dance that is supported by a remarkable pounding bass part. The Quartet ends with an optimistic flourish.
The String Quartet no.10 op.140 was written specifically for the Archaeus Quartet in 1997. It was the fourth and last dedicated to them. Like his early opus 1, this Quartet is written in a single movement structure. It is divided up into several highly contrasting sections. It opens with a vibrant perpetuum mobile, which is raunchy and brash. Attempts are made to halt this torrent of music by ‘interpolating’ slower and more restrained interludes, until all the passion is spent. The slow movement is sorrowful and torturous. However, the mood changes as this section progresses into a complex pizzicato section, played ‘allegro’. There is short intermission before the high energy music returns bringing this quartet to a ‘bravura’ end. This is a major contribution to the String Quartet repertoire by any stretch of the imagination. I would personally give reams of ‘established repertoire’ to ensure that I had this Quartet in my CD library. It is my favourite work on this disc and is one of the finest quartets by any composer from any period of musical history that I have heard.
The liner notes by Paul Conway are exceptional. They provide a brief introduction to Leonard Salzedo, as well as analysis and description of each quartet, which is essential and enjoyable reading. There are the usual performer biographies. The booklet is enhanced by a splendid cover featuring a representation of London’s South Bank. Why did ‘they’ ever remove the Shot Tower and the Skylon. Especially as the former was replaced by the brutalist Queen’s Hall and the graffiti covered ‘under croft.’ Equally interesting are the photographs of the composer as well as a superb cartoon taken from the Savage Club Christmas Dinner 1993 Menu. One thing though, at just over 57 minutes, it may have been possible to squeeze in another chamber work by Salzedo onto this CD.
As these are all premiere performances: the listener has nothing to compare them with. I was impressed by The Archaeus Quartet’s rendition of this music. Perhaps, the recording is a little harsh in places, but this does not really detract from this excellent disc. One can only marvel at the performers’ commitment to this important project.
So, the current position is that listeners have five of the ten composed/published Quartets. I sincerely hope that this was the first disc in a series/cycle devoted to Leonard Salzedo. Certainly, looking at his catalogue discloses many more chamber works that require recording. On a final note, I believe that there is an urgent need for a recording of the two Symphonies and new re-masterings of the ballet score The Witch Boy and the engaging and extraordinary Rendezvous for Jazz Group and Orchestra (with David Lindup) (1960).