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Foghorn Classics


Wayne PETERSON (b.1927)
String Quartet No.1 (1983) [17:32]
String Quartet No.2 (1991) [19:35]
String Quartet No.3 ‘Pop Sweet’ (1998) [23:46]
Alexander String Quartet
rec. St. Stephen’s Church, Belvedere, California, July 2006


Experience Classicsonline

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.

The performances 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.

Jonathan Woolf 




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