LABELS: Olympia Explorer
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2; String Quartet No. 3; String Quartet No. 4; String Quartet No. 5
PERFORMER: Schönberg Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: OCD 457 DDD
The capable Schönberg Quartet from Holland are well placed to interpret these dark, absorbing pieces. Pijper is one of the interwar generation now enjoying a wider reassessment. His mature symphonic output tends to reflect brighter moods, infused with the rhythmic energy of jazz, Milhaud-style. By contrast, a sinister kind of Nachtmusik characterises the compressed middle quartets, all three from the 1920s – a fertile period for Pijper; while the jauntier youthful first quartet (rather too rhapsodic and hybrid for the composer’s later tastes) and the incomplete last quartet (from 1946, the year before his death) stand slightly apart.
The spirit of the Second Viennese School hovers in the shadows throughout – ranging from Schoenberg himself (plus Zemlinsky) via unexpected Bergian retrogrades and sinuous hints of old-world nostalgia to eerily still moments that make Webern sound positively hyperactive. The group’s familiarity with those Viennese classics stands it in good stead for carrying off to good effect the upper harmonics, fragmented cantilenas, jarring interruptions and ambling ostinati that characterise Pijper’s string output, no less than his echoes of Mahlerian Ländler oddly metamorphosed into a half-remembered habanera.
For the adventurous listener, worth a try. The sound, extremely refined in the evocative softer passages of Quartet No. 3 (with which I would suggest starting), is a little grating at the outset. Roderic Dunnett