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Nosag Records

Claude Loyola ALLGÉN (1920 – 1990)
String Quartet No. 2 (1942)
IORE Quartet
rec. live, Academy of Arts, Stockholm, 24 April 2005
NOSAG RECORDS CD 114 [55:21]

"Claude Loyola Allgén" – and now I quote the booklet notes – "was born on April 16, 1920 in Calcutta, India, but was brought up in Djursholm near Stockholm. He started composing at the age of 13, and studied viola and counterpoint at the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm. He was a member of the Monday Group consisting of some of the leading Swedish composers. However, as a composer Allgén considered himself as self-taught."

"In 1950 he converted to Catholicism and changed his first name, Klas-Thure, to Claude Loyola Johannes Maria. He studied theology in Innsbruck and Holland but was never ordained and that he considered one of the greatest tragedies in his life."

"During the last years of his life Allgén lived in a partly self-chosen poverty. He lived in a small house and on the income from some shares, all inherited from his mother. These possessions he considered himself as holding in trust for his planned legacy for an orphanage. But the plans came to nothing. The night before September 18 in 1990 he was burned to death in his home, and with him many original manuscripts."

He was a prolific composer, but most of his oeuvre was never performed, due to the complexity of the writing but maybe also since he didn’t belong to a specific school. He always stated that music is incapable of expressing anything extra-musical, but this is at the same time "a possibility of manifoldness, of ambiguity, which certainly, fundamentally is based on the freedom which is characteristic of the human mind" as Allgén wrote in an essay in 1968.

One of the manuscripts that survived the fire is this string quartet, which exists in several versions, of which this is the first, composed in 1942 and actually a transcription of the orchestral parts to Falstaff, an opera based on Shakespeare. It was first performed by the IORE Quartet in April 2004 and then on a couple of further occasions. From what I have written above one can draw the conclusion that whatever extra-musical references I can find in the music are completely contrary to Allgén’s views.

Let me say at once that this is intriguing music. The quartet is traditionally divided into four movements, of which the second occupies about half the playing time. The first movement, marked Allegro elastico, is restless, constantly on the move – the question is: where to? One can feel that it moves in circles and so could be described as introspective – music about itself. There are some abrupt pauses, after which the music takes new directions. The rhythmical elements are essential. This is vital music, stylistically sounding like – Claude Loyola Allgén.

The long second movement is divided in seven parts, with a recurring Adagio serioso appearing four times, so it can be described as a rondo. The Adagio is contemplative and beautiful, reminding me to some extent of Arvo Pärt; it is interrupted by a more lively Un poco meno lento, a kind of march. But the Adagio returns and in spite of further excursions into other moods it is this initial contemplative atmosphere that prevails and also gets the last word.

The third movement, a tripartite Scherzo starts with some pizzicato bars, then becomes more and more agitated. We seem to hear repeated cries for help. There is more than a hint of desperation in a scherzo that lacks any gaiety.

Strangely enough the last movement, marked Presto, has a lighter tone, but the same whirlwind-like relentlessness of the first movement is also present here. Then at c. 4:40 the music suddenly stops, there is some confusion but then it starts again, hesitantly at first but after some time it’s the same relentlessness again. One eventually gets the feeling of a perpetuum mobile. Now and then one can discern fragments of melodies, suggestive of something: a children’s song, a folk melody? In the end the music just dissolves, disappears into thin air.

As I said, an intriguing composition and not for the faint-hearted. It is atonal and acrimonious, written at a time when Karl-Birger Blomdahl, the leading Swedish modernist and a future co-member to Allgén in the Monday Group, was still composing in a comparatively well-behaved vein. But it is honest, uncompromising, ambiguous and exhausting. I tremble a little at the thought of playing it again, for it is so intense that I get a feeling it will take the life out of me. However it also has a certain magic. Next time I am going to start with the slow movement: a quartet within the quartet.

One has to admire the players for their stamina, their wholeheartedness and their energy. The IORE Quartet was formed in 2003 with the intention to perform Allgén’s music. IORE is the name of the locomotives pulling the carriages with iron ore on the railway between Luleå and Narvik in northern Scandinavia. Since these trains weigh more than 8000 tons, the engines need enormous "strength, staying power and steady tempo, characteristics which are of vital importance also for anyone who decides to play Allgén’s, often rather complex, chamber music." Moreover Joar Skorpen, the first violinist, also works as an engine-driver!

The live-recording is excellent with few extraneous noises, apart from some rustle of music sheets being turned. There is a good, un-credited note in two languages, from which I have quoted extensively.

Allgén has been something of a myth in Swedish contemporary music, although very few have ever heard anything of his music. After his tragic death the myth deepened further and it is a privilege to have the opportunity to hear this music. Inquisitive readers should give it a try. It’s no easy journey. I can’t promise that you will like what you hear but there are rewards to be had.

Göran Forsling

 

 



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