Gorecki: String Quartet No. 1 (Already it is Dusk); String Quartet No. 2 (Quasi una Fantasia)

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COMPOSERS: Gorecki
LABELS: Elektra Nonesuch
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1 (Already it is Dusk); String Quartet No. 2 (Quasi una Fantasia)
PERFORMER: Kronos Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 7559-79319-2 DDD
Always keenly in touch with fashion, and often the leaders of it, the Kronos Quartet had recorded Henryk Górecki’s Already it is Dusk (1988) a full two years before the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs began its astonishing and unexpected ascent of the record charts. The quartet has now been re-packaged in the company of a new piece, Quasi una Fantasia (1990/91), forming a Kronos-Górecki partnership that sounds irresistible. Does it really work?

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Yes – but only just. Of the two quartets, the new one is the more enticingly impulsive and spontaneous piece. Finely crafted from few basic materials – too few, some would say – its four movements wander away from and back to the gentle melancholy of the opening music by way of spiky interludes haunted by the ghost of Bartók. After the Third Symphony’s serene harmonies you will find it distinctly piquant, but in its own way no less tender.

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Already it is Dusk is more cryptic. It takes its title from a little 16th-century Polish partsong, which serves both as a musical model and (evidently) as an emblem of political malaise. Although the insert notes shed useful light on this unfamiliar cultural object, the music’s dark meaning probably reveals itself most readily if you already know the partsong, and happen to be both a Roman Catholic and a Pole. John Milsom