| Quartetto con Forza
Mats Larsson GOTHE (b. 1965)
String Quartet Visioni ed estasi (2004) [16:11]
Anders HILLBORG (b. 1954)
Kongsgaard variations (2006) [15:34]
Per MÅRTENSSON (b. 1967)
String Quartet No.1 Sediments of Discourse (2007-8) [23:27]
Mika PELO (b. 1971)
Up, Down, Charm, Strange (2008) [14:09]
rec. 9-11 December 2008, 5-7 March 2009, Studio 3, Radiuhuset, Stockholm.
PHONO SUECIA PSCD 182 [70:28]
Quartetto con Forza is part of series of 'con forza'
releases from the Phono-Suecia label, which cover contemporary
repertoire for a wide diversity of instruments and ensemble
combinations. The booklet notes open with an establishment of
the context of the contemporary string quartet with giants of
the past: 'Genres have their cycles', and it would appear
that we are now all a bit more relaxed about writing for string
quartet without worrying too much about the symbolic weight
attached to it by greats such as Beethoven, Bartók and
This is an intriguing programme of recent works by Swedish composers.
Mats Larsson Gothe's String Quartet 'Visioni
ed estasi' is his third in this genre, the title being
ready-made in a nice anecdote which sees the composer standing
outside St. Peter's in Rome when the call for the commission
comes in. The central musical motif popped into the composers
mind at the same time he read the title on a poster for an art
exhibition. The four note central motif dominates this single
movement piece, being treated as a basis for some luminous harmonic
moments, as well as disappearing into some wilder transformations
of rhythm and dissonance. Bartók is held as an inspiration
by Larsson Gothe, and indeed some of the expressive atmosphere
and earthy impact of this can be traced back to this forebear.
This is an intense 'dialogue with tradition' in both
form and content, and creates a fascinating musical landscape.
Another single movement piece is the Kongsgaard Variations
by Anders Hillborg. As the title already suggests, tradition
and models of the past are very much a part of this piece, and
references to Beethoven through further entertaining but rather
convoluted anecdote infuse this work with plenty of tonal refreshment.
The piece is 'Adagio molto' in its basic physical presence,
but there is no lingering or time wasting. Variations of material
both simple and complex in both musical content and instrumental
colour move across the listener's consciousness in a kaleidoscope
of ideas and references. Erik Wallrup describes this in his
booklet notes as a 'philosophical contemplation of pleasure',
which sums up this gorgeous and, towards its conclusion very
moving music very well indeed.
Per Mårtensson's String Quartet No.1 'Sediments
of Discourse', owes its title to references which use
the word 'sediment' as a metaphor for 'the detritus
of history.' The piece is divided into four movements: Fragments,
Patterns, Scherzo and Drama. These somewhat abstract
allusions provide some clues here, as does the information that
the composer's style has been 'characterised by his
efforts to broaden the tonal spectrum as a singularly persevering
developer of live electronic music.' Compositional techniques
based on algorithmically generated rhythmic structures also
have an important role to play in this music, but in the end
it is the effect on the listener which needs communicating.
All of the previous information suggests difficulties, but while
the idiom is less overtly rooted in the comforts of tonality
and certain types of convention than the previous two works,
there is some remarkable music to be found here. The first movement
almost vanishes entirely for a whole section, so extreme is
the quiet of the dynamic. Patterns drives on with a compulsive
rhythmic motion which can be heard as having as much to do with
folk influence as anything strictly mathematical or modular.
The Scherzo movement, which has the word 'process'
as its subtitle, explores this mathematical solution, largely
around a single note, played with varying kinds of pizzicato.
I have no argument against this kind of work, but the result
is more that of an experimental sketch than a satisfyingly developed
and resolved piece of music. The final Drama, subtitled
'twisted process', broadening and extending previous
ideas into something which indeed does have something of the
melodramatic in its musical dialogues and shadowy imagery.
Mika Pelo's Up, Down, Charm, Strange brings
us back to the single-movement format. A revision of a string
quartet from 2006, the title comes from string theory, each
of the words being applied to types of quarks. The piece falls
within what the composer himself refers to in his own work as
'controlled dreaming'. This can be described as a rather
intangible basis: a kind of ethereal dream character, upon which
constantly shifting and changing material leads the listener
through a mind of musical labyrinth - altering direction without
warning, never remaining on a single idea for long, rarely developing
the idea for long before introducing new elements or transforming
entirely. In some ways this works like an M.C. Escher drawing,
but without the element of visual predictability to massage
the mind into an illusion of comfort. While the structure and
nature of the music stubbornly refuses to allow the listener
to find refuge in cyclic forms or repetition, there is plenty
of intriguing harmonic and timbral colour with which one can
engage one's intellect. The tug-of-war between what can
simultaneously be experienced as static and dynamic creates
its own frisson, and there is plenty of surprise to be had in
the twists and turns which draw their filigree lines throughout
The Stenhammar Quartet was formed in 2002 from leading orchestral
musicians, and with its strong profile in working with contemporary
music they play the works in this programme with authority and
attractive panache. The recording is excellent. While the Quartetto
con Forza might imply an aural assault, this would be a
great injustice to the vibrant creative melting-pot presented
here. If you are interested in the cutting edge of Scandinavian
string quartet writing, then this is probably the best place
to find out where it's at.