David L. POST (b.1949)
String Quartet No. 2 (2001) [20:54]
String Quartet No. 3 (2003) [20:22]
String Quartet No. 4 'Three Photographs of Abelardo Morell' (2005) [11:49]
Fantasia on a Virtual Choral (2003) [6:50]
Hawthorne String Quartet (Ronan Lefkowitz and Si-Jing Huang (violins); Mark Ludwig (viola); Sato Knudsen (cello))
rec. November 2002 (No. 2); September, 2007 (Fantasia; No. 4); September 2004 (No. 3). DDD
NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559661 [59:54]
When hearing the works of a contemporary composer for the first time, my initial inclination is to search for influences in the music. But these string quartets by David L. Post resist easy analysis to that end. I can hear snatches of a sort of generic American style here, perhaps vague suggestions of Barber, Diamond or Quincy Porter, or even Ives. But there’s a slightly cosmopolitan character here too: once in a while you might even hear a faint echo of Vaughan Williams. But, really, none of these influences are dominant, or particularly significant in Post’s music. What some listeners may find significant, however, is that Post exhibits a spiritual, though not stylistic connection, to Shostakovich in his tendency toward dark moods and sinister undercurrents. Indeed, and Post’s scherzos and burlesques aren’t jokes but seem to slash away at something, and his moments of merriment often are either fleeting or seem headed toward some disaster or disappointment. Among Post’s teachers was composer Ralph Shapey, but you hear nothing in the way of influence from him in these quartets either. In the end then, one must conclude that Post is largely his own man.
He has written the notes to this album and in them states his affinity for the string quartet idiom, which he believes to be a very high art form in music. His music is tonal and quite approachable, with tunes you may well remember, even if they aren’t extremely catchy.
The Second Quartet leads off and you immediately notice a dark sense of urgency in the first movement, marked Moderato. The ensuing Scherzo opens with bold pizzicato notes from the cello and then the violins and viola slash and shriek with sinister delight. This might be the most compelling movement on the disc. The Molto lento that follows is slow and eerie, with fleeting phrases of sweetness and hope souring and despairing. The Allegro agitato finale begins boldly, but in the darker spirit of the Scherzo, and the mood throughout remains mostly grim.
The Fantasia on a Virtual Choral was inspired by Joseph Suk’s Meditation on the Old Czech Chorale ‘Saint Wenceslas’. It is a brighter work, but its upside-down design, with development preceding exposition, may seem a bit confusing to listeners. It comes across as a pleasant but rather minor work.
The Fourth String Quartet, which comes next on the disc, comprises three movements, each depicting the image in a photograph taken by Cuban-born Massachusetts photographer Abelardo Morell. The three movements here carry as subtitles the names of the Morell photographs: 1.) Camera Obscura Image of Brookline View in Brady's Room; 2.) Book Pietà; and 3.) Map in Sink. Again, the moods are dark, and the music in the first two movements is mostly moderately paced, but with the opening panel intense and mysterious. The middle movement is quite lovely in its depiction of the photo of El Greco’s Pietà. The finale opens with an insistent ostinato that imparts a feeling of urgency; gradually a sense of desperation develops, relieved only when the closing chords emphatically shut the door.
The single-movement Third String Quartet consists of four inner sections. It begins in a relatively bright mood that occasionally yields to dark clouds. As the work progresses the sense of hope that appeared at the outset and in a few episodes of jollity fades, and grayness turns to darkness and darkness to utter blackness. The composer mentions that the work was begun “at the beginning of the Iraqi war.” He elaborates no further on the work’s connection to the war, but one might just sense a war-inspired link here and apparent negative feelings about that once bloody and ferocious conflict.
The membership of the Hawthorne String Quartet is drawn from the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The Hawthorne play each work here with utter commitment. The composer wrote the Fourth Quartet at the suggestion of the ensemble’s violist, and presumably Post has a good relationship with the group. In any event, the Hawthorne play spiritedly throughout, delivering performances that would seem hard to surpass for years to come. Naxos provides excellent sound. These quartets are worthwhile compositions, and chamber music mavens willing to sample fairly approachable contemporary works should find the disc rewarding.
Chamber music mavens willing to sample fairly approachable contemporary works should find the disc rewarding.
see also review by Byzantion (February 2011 Bargain of the Month)