Górecki String Quartets Nos 1 & 2; Genesis I: Elementi
Naxos 8.573919 60:54 mins
Górecki’s three string quartets were composed for the Kronos Quartet in 1988, 1991 and 1995 respectively. The uncompromising modernism of the first two is a long way from the lyrical expanses of his more familiar Symphony of Sorrowful Songs of 1976. The first, entitled Already it is Dusk, a title taken from a 16th-century setting of a prayer for sleeping children, begins with a striking chord introducing sinuous counterpoint. An uncompromisingly dissonant climax is reached leading to a wildly exhilarating central section before the return of the opening material. The second quartet, Quasi una fantasia, is more expansive than the first with broadly developed outer movements. Given its title, inevitably there are references to Beethoven which seem at their most pungent in the middle movements. Separating the two quartets is Genesis 1 for string trio. Although written some 25 years earlier than the quartets it has a more avant-garde aspect, stretching the individual players with some electrifying textures.
Throughout, the Tippett Quartet are sympathetic and expert interpreters negotiating Górecki’s soundworld with a strong sense of ensemble and making the most of the abundant contrasts of material and intensity. Perhaps not every detail is in place, but they are unquestionably impressive in externalising the coherence and formal integrity of these works. The recorded sound might have been a little more resonant, but it captures the full range of Górecki’s carefully calculated textures and the astonishingly virtuoso demands of Genesis. Overall, not an easy listen, but one that brings rich rewards.