Penderecki • Lutoslawski

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COMPOSERS: Penderecki; Lutoslawski
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Penderecki • Lutoslawski
WORKS: Penderecki: String Quartets Nos 1-3; Lutoslawski: String quartet
PERFORMER: Royal String quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CDA67943

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If you know Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, the sounds of the First Quartet will be familiar: the glissandos and unorthodox playing techniques, including hitting the strings with the wood of the bow or the hand, and bowing behind the bridge. It’s not the sort of music that comes off if played half-heartedly, and the Royal String Quartet, with a detailed, clear recording, give it a natural precision and direction. Both here, and in the Second Quartet, where there are some glimpses of more conventional harmonic and rhythmic patterns, they expertly balance the demands of virtuosity and necessary harshness.

Although there are a few nods to Penderecki’s modernist youth in its neo-tonal world, and there’s still a fidgety moving between ideas, much of the Third Quartet (2008) could have been written in the previous century. There are harmonic echoes of Bartók, and a Shostakovich-like grotesque waltz. And the Royals are equally committed to it.

The freedom that Lutosawski composed into his only quartet – some of its realisation is left to chance – is not reflected in the notes themselves. His fastidiously written melody and harmony are paramount, resulting in the lack of coordination between the parts. It clearly encourages heightened listening between these players: the structure and pacing remain taut, and it packs the emotional punch. This is great chamber music.

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Martin Cotton