familiar with classical music know the Swedish composer Dag
Wirén for his 1930s Serenade for Strings. It is bright,
ebullient and optimistic music. By contrast the string quartet
form raises expectations of something more grave, much
quartets on this disc were written over a period straddling
the Second World War and bring us to 1970. The period spans
a total of 35 years.
Quartet was written the year after Wirén’s marriage to cellist
Noel Franks. It is a sunny work much inclined to happiness.
In its busy textures, smiling tonality, contentment and joy-suffused
athleticism it is a counterpart to the Serenade for Strings.
The artless melodic of Wirén’s quartet parallels that of the
Bax String Quartet No. 1, the Moeran quartets and the Dvořák
late quartets. This sanguine mood, propensity for poetic mood-painting
and candid song carries over into the wartime Third Quartet.
That said, the Andante does tend towards a neo-classical
fugal dryness. The first three of the four movements were written
in close succession. The grave autumnal fourth movement was
added in 1945. It remains a bustlingly active piece and was
the first piece of music in which Wirén used the metamorphosis
technique so closely associated with Vagn Holmboe.
Quartet No. 4 has, as the note-writer says, 'an ethereal
shimmer'. This enchanting and slightly chilly aural web recalls
a slimmed-down amalgam of Szymanowski and Bartók. It is in five
movements with two intermezzi, one marked moderato the
other prestissimo. The scorching downward-slashing violin
'dives' in the exhilarating prestissimo are memorable.
The tonality has a tendency to wander ... though pleasingly.
The music unites gritty determination with a sinister or haunting
quality. There is no denying the grave power of this music which
also recalls the bleached melancholy of late Shostakovich.
Quartet was written two years before Wirén forsook composition.
The mood and style is a natural and not large progression from
the last movement of the Fourth Quartet. The stripped-down textures,
gnomic style and general air of elegiac abstraction recalls
Holst's Egdon Heath or the colder realms of Allan Petersson's
whispered and despairing symphonic lentos. Wiren however
makes the wraiths dance and caper in the finale which gutters
like a candle suddenly snuffed out.
Howard Ferguson, Wirén gave up composition and for his last
fourteen years there were to be no new works.
seven string quartets although he disowned numbers 0 and 1.
The present CD from those nice folks at Daphne is not designated
as volume 1. I do not know whether Daphne and the perceptive
and sensitive virtuosi of the Lysell intend a follow-up.
certainly fascinating works with 2 and 3 winningly energetic
and embracing joy. 4 and 5 powerfully reflect 20th century angst.
Not to be missed.
NOTE: I can now confirm that Wirén wrote
only six string quartets. These are
numbers: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. Daphne
have written to clarify this point
and have indicated that in respect
to the opinion of the composer: the
first two quartets will not be recorded.
Daphne have no plans for a 'Wirén
string quartets vol 2'. RB