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Krzysztof MEYER (b.1943)
String Quartets - Volume 4
String Quartet no.1, op.8 (1963) [15:17]
String Quartet no.2, op.23 (1969) [14:44]
String Quartet no.3, op.27 (1971) [18:08]
String Quartet no.4, op.33 (1974) [27:09]
Wieniawski String Quartet (Jarosław Żołnierczyk (violin I); Mirosław Bocek (violin II); Lech Bałaban (viola); Maciej Mazurek (cello))
rec. Radio Merkury, Poznań, Poland, 15-17 October 2012 (opp.23, 27), 4-5 February 2013 (opp.8, 33).
NAXOS 8.573165 [75:18]

The first four of Polish composer Krzysztof Meyer's string quartets are handily gathered together for this, the fourth and final volume in the Wieniawski Quartet's recording for Naxos of the composer's complete quartets, of which there are thirteen 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. Volume 4 sees their most confident and persuasive interpretations of Meyer.
 
Meyer is a published authority on both Lutosławski and Shostakovich, whose unfinished opera The Gambler he completed. Shostakovich's influence can be felt in the quartets, albeit in some more than others. The four works heard here span a decade or so of high modernism, and it is Lutosławski and especially Meyer's teacher Krzysztof Penderecki whose presence is greater here. On the other hand, it is worth bearing in mind that Meyer had already completed twelve Quartets before Penderecki had even got to his Third.
 
Meyer has a fondness too for Bartók's chamber music, and one fruitful way of characterising these early quartets would be as works that Bartók himself might have written, had he lived another 25 years. Like Penderecki, Meyer dabbled in avant-garde techniques and forms in the early stages of his career, before eventually taking a greater interest in art music's rich, vast heritage. 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 first four, though undeniably modernist in outlook, are not especially experimental, although - as with Bartók's six - they are not places to look for flowing melodies or consonant harmonies. 'Screechy' passages are few and far between and, whilst the writing dips in and out of atonality, it never roams far from the more readily recognisable language of older Polish contemporaries and predecessors like Weinberg, Bacewicz and Szymanowski. Indeed, in some of the more reflective movements, like the slow, calm finale of the Third Quartet or the first part of the long 'ostinato' middle of the Fourth, he is arguably as approachable as any of these.
 
None of these are first recordings - the Wilanów Quartet recorded the first twelve, initially in the Nineties on Pro Viva (still available online, though not widely) 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.
 
Richard Whitehouse again supplies the notes, bone-dry and academic but detailed and intelligent. They take the reader on a literally descriptive journey through the works, ignoring the emotional impact of Meyer's writing. Sound quality is very good - the close miking of previous volumes has been adjusted to provide more comfortable listening. Anyone considering only a single-volume investment will be well rewarded with this one. There is, by the way, some fantastic string writing from Meyer on an orchestral scale available in his sinister-sounding, similar-vintage Violin Concerto op.12, recently made available again by the multi-genre label Polskie Nagrania (PNCD 1298). Alongside Meyer's work, superb soloist Roman Lasocki also performs Grazyna Bacewicz's final Violin Concerto (no.7), allowing the listener to identify stylistic connections.
 
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