Mátyás SEIBER (1905-1960)
String Quartet No.1 (1924) [15:07]
String Quartet No. 2 (1934-35) [22:20]
Quartetto Lirico (String Quartet No.3) (1948-51) [22:48]
Edinburgh Quartet
rec. May 2009, Prestonkirk Parish Church, East Linton
DELPHIAN DCD34082 [60:17]
Seiber’s three quartets span most of his compositional life and form a compelling narrative. The First was begun when he was eighteen and is a marvellously accomplished work. The first movement was written last and contains a good ration of folk-like melodic statements and feel, the first violin spinning a succulent line over throbbing pizzicato. Whether in unison or in single battalions Seiber manages to vest the line with unremitting timbral interest. This makes a fine contrast to the rather terse concentrated chiaroscuro of the central movement, though its B section is very much more animated and lyrical before the return of the rapt opening feel. The first of the three movements to be composed was actually the finale, but this chronologically topsy-turvy work nevertheless hits all the right spots, not least here. It’s the most explicitly free and folkloric movement, being vital, rhythmically free and charmingly brief.
The second quartet came a full decade later and occupies wholly different ground. Seiber had by now fully absorbed central European musical directions and his quicksilver Schoenbergian ethos offers a plethora of fascinating things. The confidence of its handling hardly needs to be remarked upon, but its vitality and changeability is certainly deserving of notice. The central movement is a so-called ‘Blues’, but its Intermezzo function is a long way away from the mediated avidity of, say, Milhaud or Schulhoff. Instead, with its glissandi and transformative spirit, we get a shimmering sense of the Blues but in a serial context - rather Krenek like, occasionally remote and austere in places. The finale has plenty of colour and expressive devices, a Bergian subtlety of deployment. When the music slows, dramatically and introspectively, it does so with an end that is both quixotic and also questioning.
The final quartet is probably the best known of the three. It was dedicated to, and recorded by, the Amadeus, so it garnered a deal of exposure. The slow opening unfolds deftly with germ-like ideas, whilst the central movement utilises the same note-series as the first, and exudes the same kind of cyclical principles that Seiber often employed. Introspective and deeply contemplative, the finale has not a single frivolously placed note; instead it pursues a course of steady questioning through the most concentrated of means.
Once again the Edinburgh Quartet impresses. They marry technical address to musico-expressive insights, and the results are consistently illuminating not least because the fine recording, in Prestonkirk Parish Church, East Linton is first class. Hugh Wood’s booklet notes are similarly impressive. Seiber’s quartets are in the best of hands in this enlightening disc.
Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Rob Barnett
Seiber’s quartets are in the best of hands in this enlightening disc.