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Bella Musica

Boris YOFFE (b.1968)
32 Gedichte aus dem Quartettbuch (32 Poems from the Book of Quartets)
Patricia Kopatschinskaja and Daniel Kobyliansky (violins), Roman Spitzer (viola) and Dmitri Dichtiar (cello)
rec. May 2004 at SWR Studios Karlsruhe
ANTES EDITION BM-CD 31.9192 [48.01]



Boris Yoffe’s Book of Quartets now contains over two thousand pieces. Given that none in this disc lasts beyond 1.33 they are all likely to be compact to a remarkable degree. They are all numbered though I’ve dispensed with numberings in the headnote not least because the composer expressly sanctions that they be heard in whichever order and number one chooses and because numbering them will be meaningless to readers. Most on this disc are numbered above 2200; 2349 is heard, twice, and there’s a Widmung, without number. Which is how we get to 32 Poems and 34 tracks. 

The notes aren’t especially helpful about Yoffe who was born in St Petersburg in 1968. He emigrated to Israel in 1990 and then to Germany seven years later. He apparently sees himself as “a Jewish composer influenced in his work by Russian literature, German music and Far Eastern philosophy.” The evidence of the music is of slow moving, essentially introspective, and indeed mournful reflection. It has elements of compression reminiscent of the more melancholy fringes of minimalism, maybe also of Taverner in keening mode. Tracked individually though they are the music seems to move seamlessly from one Poem to the next. Tonal and concise they offer some moments to the first violin but are in the main painted in auburn colours for all four instruments.

Along the way one notices slight changes of effect. No.2348 [track 17] seems fractionally lighter in tone than the generally rather melancholy Poems. Elsewhere ascending and descending lines develop a degree of hypnotic repetition; scored unison in the main with occasional solo lines; grave and contemplative as befits “Eastern Philosophy” where nothing much seems to happen and where the tempo is the same, throughout.

Given Yoffe’s promotion of these poetic slivers one should accept them, I suppose, on their own terms, one of Eastern reflectiveness and minutest incremental intensities of lightening having powerful weight in the context of so much quartet stasis. I’m sure that to some this will be attractive – non-cerebral but “feeling-philosophical.” One could barely fault the performers and the recording soundscape is attractive.

Jonathan Woolf


Bella Musica




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