Notes and Editorial Reviews
String Quartets Nos. 4–6
NORTHERN FLOWERS 99109 (54:01)
36:4 I wrote a very positive review about the first volume of string quartets by Vadim Salmanov (1912–1978). These had previously been available on Melodiya and then Russian Disc, then went out of print for quite a while. Northern Flowers has since picked up the slack, as it has on several of what might be called Melodiya’s second tier titles.
To briefly recap: Salmanov’s interest in music was piqued by his father, a wealthy metals engineer who had his son trained by several former pupils of Rimsky-Korsakov and Taneyev. After a period around 1930 in which he spent several years studying geology, Salmanov saw Emil Gilels in concert. This reawakened his interest in music, but he waited several more years before joining Mikhail Gnessin’s composition class at the Moscow Conservatory. The two hit it off, and Gnessen was later instrumental in securing commissions for Salmanov. The latter was to prove strongly interested in neo-Classicism, with a pronounced interest in all contrapuntal procedures, especially canons, within a moderately dissonant, usually bitonal texture. He didn’t slight expressiveness, however, and his music at times has a despondent melancholy we might associate with Weinberg.
The Fourth String Quartet appeared in 1963, two years after the Third. The liner notes speak of dodecaphony, but there’s no evidence of it. This is a work whose constant but moderate dissonance is based on stepping outside an expected tonal framework, without the use of tone rows or the restriction of permitted transformations. The most adventurous movement is the scherzo-like second, whose rhythmic wit and harsh harmonies recall at various times Roussel or Bartók far more than Schoenberg. The freely contrapuntal third movement is among the most lonely and poignant of Salmanov’s
The Fifth String Quartet of 1968 is once more described as dodecaphonic, with the added proviso of “less strict.” Since the Fourth wasn’t dodecaphonic, it’s hardly surprising the Fifth doesn’t sound serial either, though the level of dissonance in the opening movement is at times much sharper; and the powerful
makes use of tonal clusters against spare, open harmonies for contrast. The sarcastic, motoric Finale is a
tour de force
in varied four-part textures.
The Sixth Quartet of 1971 returns to a less acerbic musical language, though without losing any of the composer’s preference for bitonal exploration, or his expressive depth. Like Shostakovich’s Fourth Quartet (if less conservative musically), the first movement starts brightly before the skies cloud, with the violins gently sniping minor thirds beneath the lower strings. Dense, harsh chords and angular, open canons vie for space, though their content is actually the same, utilizing diminution. The Scherzo again recalls Shostakovich’s manner—this time a pair of his breezy, mock-folk tunes, complete with wrong notes. The melancholy
is the most openly heartfelt in this series of six quartets, while the Finale is largely a canonic
derived from material heard in the opening
. It sets the seal to a group of quartets that deserve to be far better known than they currently are.
The Taneyev String Quartet was one of several excellent Soviet ensembles that formed in the wake of World War II. Vladimir Ovcharek, their leader, recalled in later years that Shostakovich gave them permission to perform all his quartets immediately after their debuts by the politically powerful Beethoven Quartet: quite an honor. Here they are at their best in the Fifth Quartet, recorded in 1969, with a relatively lean tone compared to the Shostakovich and Borodin Quartets, and with fluent technique. The Fourth and Sixth, recorded in 1980, display some occasional pitch and tone issues in faster passagework, though they still are intensely communicative.
Along with the release of the first three on Northern Flowers 99102, this is definitely worth the purchase.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
String Quartet No. 4 by Vadim Nikolayvich Salmano
Date of Recording: 1966
Venue: St. Petersburg Recording studio
Length: 15 Minutes 25 Secs.
String Quartet No. 5 by Vadim Nikolayvich Salmano
Date of Recording: 1969
Venue: House of St. Petersburg Composers
Length: 17 Minutes 28 Secs.
String Quartet No. 6 by Vadim Nikolayvich Salmano
Date of Recording: 1980
Venue: St. Petersburg Recording studio
Length: 20 Minutes 6 Secs.
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