This is the third volume in the Wieniawski Quartet's recording for Naxos of Polish composer Krzysztof Meyer's complete String Quartets; there are thirteen quartets to date. Volume 1 came out in 2009; see review of volume 2
. The Quartet's four members are drawn from the ranks of Polish Radio's Amadeus Chamber Orchestra, themselves veterans of numerous recordings for Polish label CD Accord in particular.
Meyer is a published authority on Shostakovich and completed his unfinished opera The Gambler
, subsequently premiered in 1984. Not unexpectedly, and by Meyer's own free admission, Shostakovich looms large in the Quartets - or is it in fact Meyer's countryman Mieczyslaw Weinberg? Previous volumes noted Meyer's love of Bartók's chamber music, and the influence of his Quartets too is in evidence, as is that of Meyer's teacher Krzysztof Penderecki - though here it is worth bearing in mind that Meyer had already completed twelve Quartets before Penderecki had even got to his Third.
Like Penderecki, Meyer dabbled in avant-garde techniques and forms in the early stages of his career, before eventually taking a greater interest in the rich and vast heritage of art music. In general, his Quartets are complex and wrought, with a distinctive eastern European voice expressive of melancholy and hope, restlessness and emptiness, darkness with glimpses of light. The lurching, searching character of the emotionally intense Eleventh Quartet of volume 2 perfectly encapsulates all this, and is one of the finest single-movement Quartets of its time. In this programme, both the shorter Seventh - a relatively easy-going opener - and the longer Thirteenth are written as continuous movements. The approachable Thirteenth is Meyer's latest work in the genre, completed in fact since the recording of volume 2, which featured the massive nine-movement Twelfth. The big work here is the Tenth, forty minutes of intense music that is moderate in its modernism but generous in terms of intellectual and emotional reward for the attentive listener.
None of these are billed as first recordings, although this does appear to be the Thirteenth Quartet's premiere. The Wilanów Quartet recorded the first twelve, initially in the Nineties on Pro Viva - requiring some online detective work to track down - with the Eleventh and Twelfth appearing three or four years ago on the Polish Acte Préalable label (AP0146). There have been one or two other recordings of individual Quartets too, but as a body Meyer's Quartets - like his equally significant Symphonies - have yet to be taken up as they should be, more widely. These are important and substantial works that belong in every serious contemporary quartet's repertory. The Wieniawski Quartet show them further how it should be done.
Richard Whitehouse again supplies the notes, which are well written and intelligent, if sometimes rather generic: "...cast in a single movement that makes repeated and effective use of the contrasts between solo and ensemble writing, in the process setting up a cumulative musical entity which purposefully alternates stasis and dynamism." They take the reader on a literally descriptive journey through the works, without ever preparing him or her for the emotional scope of Meyer's writing. Sound quality is very good, although the players are again rather closely miked.
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