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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]
Lysell Quartet
rec. Eklidens skolas aula, Nacka, Sweden, July 1993 and October 1995
ACOUSTICA ACCD-1013  [66:46]
 















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 ACCD-1015  [72:57]



Carlstedt’s 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.
 
Carlstedt’s String 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.
 
The String 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 slow coda.
 
The String 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.
 
As 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.
 
Although 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.
 
In 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.
 
Carlstedt’s 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.

As 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).

Hubert Culot
 



 


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