Holmboe: String Quartet No. 13; String Quartet No. 14; String Quartet No. 15

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LABELS: Dacapo
WORKS: String Quartet No. 13; String Quartet No. 14; String Quartet No. 15
PERFORMER: Kontra Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 8.224127
Dacapo’s ongoing series is unveiling Vagn Holmboe’s 20 quartets as one of the century’s major cycles, more numerous and scarcely less important than those of Bartók, Schoenberg or Shostakovich. Holmboe’s is very ‘pure’ quartet writing: on one level as abstract and intellectually focused as The Art of Fugue, yet arising directly from the clear singing voices of the four equal strings. Their quirks and humour, chattering allegros and glacial Nordic calm progress purposefully towards unexpected goals in developmental dialogue, with no excess of notes or rhetoric. It often seems that the same thematic material, the same characteristic turns and motivic shapings, remain in discussion from work to work – in fact Holmboe is one of those composers with whom there’s a sense that each score is merely one stage in a single meta-work begun when he first put pen to paper and not to be concluded except by his death. Yet these three examples, written in quick succession in 1975-8, establish individual expressive profiles: the serene, symmetrically balanced No. 13, the suite-like succession of miniatures that is No. 14, the tenderly elegiac No. 15 with its haunting funeral march. The Kontra’s playing is committed and affectionate, but one sometimes longs for a little more warmth of tone. Calum MacDonald