String Quartets Nos 1-4; String Trio etc.
Naxos 8.574288 52:58 mins
Who, hearing Penderecki’s first two string quartets, could have predicted the trajectory that would lead to the Fourth, premiered roughly half a century later. The first two wear their 1960s avant-garde credentials with pride: No. 1 (1960) a cornucopia of buzzing, thrumming, thwacking extended instrumental techniques inhabiting the soundworld of a Berio; No. 2 (1968) a little indebted to Ligeti. Then came quartet silence until, two decades on, the brooding miniature Der unterbrochene Gedanke indicated a linguistic hiatus heralding a plunge into a less astringent world – a development compounded by the String Trio, and two further quartets content to engage with points of reference including gypsy and Eastern European folk music. Together they signalled a decisive journey away from the avant-gardism that Penderecki had come to see as an expressive dead end.
Presented chronologically as here, it’s a journey that makes for a rewarding listen. To discuss the two ‘extras’ first, the Trio sees the Tippetts offer a fastidiously calibrated delineation of its trenchantly purposeful dialogue, while in Der unterbrochene Gedanke they draw on a refulgent, questing radiance. They ricochet through the fizzing textures of the First Quartet like a violently discharged pinball, but don’t short-change its more confiding asides. The ebb and flow of the confessional Quartet No. 3, meanwhile, is navigated with an assurance that speaks to their inside-out assimilation of all six scores. To have such a comprehensive programme vividly recorded and performed with such distinction is a triumph; to have it on a single disc at budget price is an utter steal.