Jan CARLSTEDT (1926–2004)
String Quartet No.1 in D minor Op.2 (1951/2) [19:18]
String Quartet No.2 Op.22 (1966) [26:34]
String Quartet No.3 Op.23 (1967) [20:08]
rec. Eklidens skolas aula, Nacka, Sweden, July 1993 and October
Jan CARLSTEDT (1926–2004)
String Quartet No.4 Op.31 (1972) [25:21]
String Quartet No.5 Op.32 (1977) [22:24]
String Quartet No.6 Op.60 (1998) [25:01] Lysell Quartet rec. Eklidens skolas aula, Nacka, October 1995
and Dala-Järna kyrka, January 2004 ACOUSTICA
six string quartets were written between 1951 and 1998, thus
spanning almost fifty years of his composing life. These
stark facts say much for the importance that he obviously
attached to the medium. Moreover, as demonstrated on an earlier
recording (Acoustica ACCD-1008, that includes his early Sonata
per archi Op.7:2), he wrote idiomatically and effectively
for strings. Besides these works, his output also includes
a very fine String Trio Op.5 (1955), a Sonata
per Violino Solo Op.15 (1959), a Ballata Op.18 for
solo cello (1961) as well as the imposing Metamorphosi
per archi Op.42 (1987). His six string quartets represent
an important facet of his output, and one in which his musical
progress may be appreciated. At the time of his death in
2004, he had apparently completed his Seventh Quartet, and
was at work on his Eighth and Ninth.
Quartet No.1 in D minor Op.2 is an early work
composed when the composer was still studying at the
Royal College of Music in Stockholm. It is laid out in
three movements, a form that Carlstedt favoured for all
his later string quartets, with the notable exception
of the Sixth, which is in five movements. Lively outer
movements frame a slow movement with a central Scherzo-like
section. This is a lovely work full of youthful exuberance,
although the very fine central movement already displays
Carlstedt’s lyricism. Although an early work, it already
reveals several Carlstedt fingerprints: clarity of thought,
clarity of line, perfect proportions, painstaking craftsmanship
and folk-inflected harmonies. His models are clearly
enough Bartók, Shostakovich and Britten, to whom the
Fourth String Quartet is dedicated.
Quartet No.2 Op.22 is in three movements, but
in a slightly different mould than its predecessor. A
slow introduction leads into a fast main section briefly
pausing with a short restatement of the opening before
a reprise of the fast music. This is followed by a short
Scherzo and a compound Finale opening with a slow section
leading into an animated Allegro and capped by a beautiful
Quartet No.3 Op.23, that quickly followed, is
largely in the same mould as its predecessor: a moderately
fast first movement, a capricious Scherzo with heavily
accented dance rhythms and a long final movement combining
slow movement and lively Finale.
already mentioned earlier in this review, the String
Quartet No.4 Op.31 is dedicated to Benjamin Britten,
although the music neither borrows from nor alludes to Britten’s
music. However, the viola, Britten’s instrument, features
prominently in all three movements, particularly so in the
beautiful subsidiary theme in the first movement. The first
movement, roughly in sonata form, is strongly contrapuntal,
much more so than in the preceding quartets, and the music
is impassioned. However, it ends calmly, so that the transition
into the slow central movement happens logically and without
effort. This slow movement contains some of Carlstedt’s finest
music, and is a deeply felt elegy building to an impressive
climax. The final movement is replete with dance rhythms.
The music climaxes in an imposing fugal episode. The whole
is capped by a hymn-like coda of great expressive beauty.
it bears the next opus number, the String Quartet No.5
Op.32 was composed after a rather long gap of five
years, upon which the annotator does not offer any comment.
The opening Allegretto is straightforward, and full of open-air
music, again with much rhythmical vitality. As in the Fourth
Quartet, the long hymn-like slow movement is the real emotional
core. The Finale follows without a break by way of a short
bridge section. The often impassioned Allegro is interspersed
with slower, more reflective sections. The conflict is eventually
resolved in the peaceful, ethereal coda.
the String Quartet No.6 Op.60, completed in
1998, Carlstedt seems to be moving into new territories,
although the music is obviously from the same pen. All movements,
with the exception of long final Epilogue, are concise; and
the contrast between each movement is somewhat more abrupt.
Moreover, the music now allows a somewhat higher level of
dissonance than before, although it retains its melodic warmth.
It may also be tonally more ambiguous. As already mentioned,
the Sixth String Quartet is in five movements, arranged symmetrically
on both sides of the short central Adagio. The opening Moderato
leads straight into a nervous, troubled Allegro; hints of
Shostakovich here, but without the often biting irony heard
in the Russian composer’s scherzos. The heart of the work
lies in the short, but eloquent Adagio, all the more poignant
for its brevity. There follows another scherzo leading into
the deeply moving Epilogue. This marvellous piece of music
is undoubtedly one of the peaks in Carlstedt’s output.
music clearly does not break any new ground, but it is superbly
crafted, often warmly melodic with a lively sense of rhythm.
It eschews Nordic Romanticism as well as Neo-classicism.
It often has an improvisatory feel, but is neatly worked
out. It is conspicuously free from any posturing, and often
imbued with healthy, almost rustic simplicity, though never
at the expense of strongly communicative expression. Most
importantly, it is deeply felt, sincere music often of great
beauty and it repays repeated hearing. As far as his six
string quartets are concerned, all are perfectly balanced
and none outstays its welcome. They may not have either the
sophistication of Bartók’s quartets nor the all-embracing
concerns of Shostakovich, but they certainly represent their
composer at his best. In short, they are just too fine to
be simply ignored. Although some of them have been recorded
many years ago during the LP era, this is the first complete
recording of the entire set; and, as such, this pair of discs
is most welcome. It will appeal to all those who like the
quartets by Shostakovich, Bartók (middle period)and Britten,
especially in performances as fine as these.
a footnote, I would like to recommend another disc entirely
devoted to Carlstedt’s chamber music that is well worth searching
out: Phono Suecia PSCD 101 (String Trio Op.5, Ballata
Op.18, Divertimento Op.17 for oboe
and string trio, Metamorphoses Op.30 for flute,
oboe and string trio).
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