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Nicolas BACRI (b. 1961)
String Quartet No. 3 Op. 18 (1985-88) [8:04]
String Quartet No. 4 Op. 42 "Omaggio a Beethoven" (1989-95) [23:03]
String Quartet No. 5 Op. 57 (1997) [24:51]
String Quartet No. 6 Op. 97 (2005) [13:34]
Psophos Quartet
rec. 11-14 April 2007, Saint-Marcel Lutheran Church, Paris. DDD
AR-RE-SE 2007-1 [70:15]
Experience Classicsonline

This is my first acquaintance with the music of the amazingly-prolific Bacri. At 47 his opus numbers are in the nineties, with a wide variety of works including six symphonies, seven string quartets, concertos for one and two pianos, and various choral works. Born in Paris in 1961, his early compositions are serial. The liner-notes indicate that Bacri’s influences are "Boulez and Scelsi, Webern and Shostakovich, Carter and Dutilleux."

The quartets are sequenced here in reverse chronological order, and from the outset of the String Quartet No. 6, one also gets a sense that Bartók is also on Bacri’s sonic horizon. The piece begins with an uneasy adagio that rapidly grows in intensity and volume before launching headlong into a frenetic and emotionally intense Allegro that provides the main theme. The following two movements are played without pause. The central Adagio is a sombre, Shostakovichian exploration of the thematic material originally presented in the first movement’s introduction, before escalating in volume to the final theme-and-variations movement. The pacing is intense and the Psophos Quartet launch into these pieces with fearlessness and tenacity.

The String Quartet No. 5 is more formal in its architecture, with an opening movement that is, structurally, a relatively straightforward sonata. The first minute is lyrical and melancholically beautiful before again escalating, as the Sixth did, with surprising and intriguing changes in timbre. The second movement, entitled Elegia, is, according to the liner-notes, a remembrance of one of Bacri’s friends, Thierry Mobillon. The letters of Mobillon’s name make up the main thematic material for this movement. There are pauses filled with intensity and musical phrases of great emotional impact here that fans of Shostakovich will certainly appreciate, as well as in the following Scherzo senza trio, which returns to Bacri’s driven pace and, to me, extremely interesting use of texture. The music on this disc often moves at a hurtling pace, but there is no doubt as to direction. There may be moments of almost-stasis here, but never aimlessness.

The Fourth Quartet is subtitled "Omaggio a Beethoven" and uses Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge as the springboard, both in terms of structural elements and thematic material. The first movement, titled Prologo uses fragments of the Beethoven theme, along with a repeated motif of a minor second that seems to portray breathing. The slow movements of Shostakovich’s Op. 110 are present, especially since the first four notes of the Grosse Fuge theme are here invoked in a way that seems meant to hark back to the DSCH theme. Shostakovich shows up in various guises, as well as an even more brutal quotation of thematic material from Grosse Fuge in the Toccata second movement. The piece is arresting and wonderfully intense, though by my frequent use of that word in this critique, intensity is certainly a hallmark of all of the music on this disc.

Overall, the Psophos play these pieces with the great tenacity as they also do with the Third Quartet and, based on the quality of these performances, I will be looking forward to other releases from them. The liner-notes are extremely well-detailed, including structural/thematic analyses and timer indications that I believe many will find very helpful. Regarding the music, these works certainly come recommended, especially for those who enjoy the quartets of Shostakovich and Bartók. This is challenging and absorbing listening.

David Blomenberg

see also review by Hubert Culot



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