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Yuri FALIK (1936-2009)
String Quartet No. 3 (1974) [15:42]
String Quartet No. 4 (1976) [18:42]
String Quartet No. 5 (1978) [21:46]
String Quartet No. 6 (1984) [13:23]
Taneyev String Quartet ((Vladimir Ovcharek (violin I); Grigory Lutzky (violin II); Vissarion Solovyev (viola); Josef Levinzon (cello))
rec. St Petersburg (Leningrad) Recording Studio, Capella Concert Hall, 1978-86

In his book Music of the Soviet Era: 1917-1991 Levon Hakobian describes Yuri Falik's quartets as "notable for their rich, almost orchestral sound and an intense dramaturgy involving sharp contrasts in dynamics, tempo and texture … works combining deep introspection with vigour and quasi-symphonic development.” He says that they are of the same family as the Shostakovich quartets. Falik's Fourth is, in fact, dedicated to Shostakovich and was written a year after the older composer's death. The Seventh and Eighth belong to 1993 and 2001 respectively. I do not know about the First but No. 2 dates from 1965 and can, I understand, be heard on Youtube while No. 8 is reportedly on Soundcloud.

This latest salvo from Northern Flowers' St. Petersburg Musical Archive confronts the curious listener with four short string quartets by this St Petersburg composer. It's not their first disc to honour Falik. You can explore the Concerto della Passione and the Sinfonietta/Violin Concerto (NFPMA9119). Odessa was Falik's birthplace. His family was very musical. He was a cellist by training and inspiration and was a pupil of the young Rostropovich. His catalogue includes eight string quartets, two symphonies, operas and various concertos. His more recent works included the Second Symphony Kaddish (1993) and a Mass for soloists, chorus and chamber orchestra (1996).

The Third Quartet is a work of unblinking clarity. It is here very closely recorded in a single track, as is also the case with its two successors. There is some almost brutish dissonance (8:40) but what stays with you is a furious and hoarse desiccation, relieved at times by tenderness and silvery delicacy. A pummelling minimalist waspish fury also suffuses the start of the Fourth Quartet but it is not very long before tenderness returns, even if that introspective mood seems to shift mercurially on a knife-edge between chill and warmth. Despites its comparative brevity this quartet radiates an epic character. The off-beat chesty pizzicato at 13:10 appears to pay direct tribute to Shostakovich. Vladimir Ovcharek's solo violin sings out at 14:34 in writing that combines beauty and noble sorrow. The quartet's third and final movement ends in dignified silence - far from morose.

The Fifth Quartet is also in three movements. The desolate opening Largo evolves into another of the composer's intense revolving clouds of sound. Writing of cool and mobile intensity is lofted high by the violins about half way through. A pecked-out melody for the violins at 14:00 has a religious air which remains in place despite the hoarse bass-heavy abrasion of the writing. The work's last movement is a virtuoso, propulsive, steely, quiet and spiky Allegro vivo misterioso which keeps up the pursuit without pausing for breath: a ruthless Ariel flight. After three works written two years apart, the Sixth Quartet, from 1984, is in two movements - and is presented on two tracks. Its dedication is to the Komitas Quartet. It comprises a very short airy Fanfare and a ten-minute Requiem. The Fanfare dazzles with optimism and positive sentiment, not qualities easily found in the other quartets here. The slow-pulsed Requiem is honeyed and tuneful¸ emotional without theatrical tears, a gentle sincerity hums from every bar. Its undemonstrative yet genuinely engaging character places it close to Arvo Pärt's Cantus. This Quartet appears to signal a greater inclination to address the listener without technical complication; not that the other quartets are especially tough. Indeed, all of them will appeal to anyone who is already attuned to the Bartók and Shostakovich quartets.

The recordings and sensational performances made over an eight-year period have come up vividly and are only harsh where the music appears to demand that mood. The notes are in English only.

Rob Barnett



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