Here’s an engaging discovery for chamber enthusiasts. For those
who may not have encountered his music, Wayne Peterson was born
in 1927 in Minnesota and has lived in San Francisco since 1960.
He’s written more than sixty works for orchestra, chorus and chamber
ensembles and has been a guest composer at Indiana University
amongst others and Professor of Music at San Francisco State University
for over thirty years. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992.
These three quartets
show intriguing turns of phrase that illuminate musical influences
and imperatives. The First was written in 1983 and is cast in
one movement though this is in itself cast into two sections;
an Allegro and contrasting Moderato and then an Adagio. This
is a work the composer characterises as more rhythmically straightforward
than previous works of his and presented in so ‘direct’ a way
that the listener will not have too much trouble following it.
That seems to me an eminently just summary. There is plenty
of what I’d call tough lyricism, strong-ish dissonance and plenty
of internal tensions and contrasts. It moves from elliptical
to voluble and ends reflectively. In the course of seventeen
minutes or so – the timing specified by the composer; the Alexander
String Quartet comes very close to this timing – Peterson says
what he has to say in a well laid out way.
The Second Quartet
was dedicated to this current quartet in 1991. Once again there
are two contrasting movements though this time they are formally
demarcated, the first called Apparitions, the second
Jazz Play. The opening is slow but unsettled with plenty
of shifting patterns and metres and pitch. Moments of warm reflection
are interrupted by jabbering loquaciousness; it’s tempting to
see these in terms of emotive states, though it’s never made
explicit. The second movement is a jazz-drenched affair – Peterson
used to play bop piano – that alludes to themes in the first
movement; plenty of clever zest.
The finale quartet
here is No.3 written in 1998 and subtitled Pop Sweet.
This is by some way the most obviously approachable of the trio
of quartets. Its opening is called Samba These Days –
and is replete with dance rhythms; bossa, tango, samba, habanera
but all the while handled with wit and sophisticated concentration;
the rhythms really swing hereabouts. The second movement (Lament)
has rather Debussian echoes with some shuddering, knotty interjections
that sound like transmuted Bartók. The finale is vital and vibrant,
picking up on popular song and idioms – country fiddle music
principally – and brings a grin to the face.
were recorded with the composer present as executive producer
in St. Stephen’s Church, Belvedere, California. And interestingly
the quartet used a matching set of Strad copies, made by luthier
Francis Kuttner. Most enjoyable performances of engaging works
that have absorbed a wide range of influences whilst remaining
true to their own logic and direction.