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Nyman: String Quartets Nos 4 & 5

Smith Quartet (MN Records)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Nyman String Quartets Nos 4 & 5
Smith Quartet
MN Records MNRCD 141 64:65 mins


Michael Nyman has composed five string quartets: while numbers one to four were based on pre-existing material, the Fifth is entirely original. It was written for the Smith Quartet who premiered the work in 2011 and hereby provide the first recording. String Quartet No. 5’s subtitle, ‘Let’s not make a song and dance out of this’, refers to the fact that each of the six movements could – or could not – imply a particular form. The exuberant theme introduced in the first movement gives the impression of a dance. Movements two and three are solemn – mournful, even – with sparse textures. These contrasting moods combine in the second half (fourth and fifth movements), ending in a contemplative violin melody and a recapitulation of the first theme.

String Quartet No. 4 (1994/5) takes Nyman’s solo violin work Yamamoto Perpetuo and uses it directly as the first violin part. Nyman tackles the enforced structure in his characteristically creative way: the work is made up of 12 short movements that use several different styles, yet are cross- referred. Although the intelligent use of space and texture provides refreshment, there are so many ideas the narrative can be tricky to follow.

This disc can sometimes feel as though you are reading three different books concurrently (not necessarily a bad thing). If you can accept the disparate styles, the music is meaningful, beautiful – and, in the hands of the Smith Quartet, moving, too.


Claire Jackson