Between Two Worlds: Music for String Quartet

Between Two Worlds is a magnificent disc; beautifully recorded, still mroe beautifully played. It leaves an indelible impact.

Between Two Worlds: Music for String Quartet

Liminal spaces, transitional energies: Between Two Worlds. The emergence of day from teh darkness of night and the cycle of nature reflecting the soul's journey are all embedded in this beautiful disc by the Casytalian String Quartet.

From the vibrato-less frozen wastes of Orlando de Lassus's La nuit froide et sombre (arranged for quartet by the Castalian's leader, Sini Simonen) emerges the opening of Beethoven's late Quartet in A minor, Op. 132. It is remarkable how a young quartet can perform late Beethven with this standard of knowing. Beethoven's Op. 132 was written in 1825, just two years before the composer's death in 1827.

The piece is in five movements, two pairs of movements around A major/minor surrounding a central third movement in F Lydian (mode). It is this central movement that is known as the “Heiliger Dankgesang” (a “holy song of thanksgiving”) and is the quartet's most famous movement; but the Castalian Quartet performed miracles elsewhere too, not least in exposing the textures of the  sublime, otherworldly modernity of parts of the second movement Minuet and Trio (such a innocent description of a movement of infinite imagination!).

It is with the “Heiliger Dankgesang”  that the disc reaches its most interor moment; it also pulls the inclusion of the Lassus into focus, Beethoven's slow-moving, almost vibrato-free part-writing mirroring what we first heard, extending it, taking it if anything to more profound spaces. This movement also shows the Castalian Quartet's skills in micorcosm: the ability to think in large-scale spans, yet to honour each and every detail, all held within a breathtaking technique. The brief Alla Marcia movement retains its martial origins beautifully before the appassionato finale, with its nervously shifting textures, a rondo on a theme that was, accroding to the composer's sketchbooks, at one stage headed for Beethoven's Ninth Symphony:

The fact the Adès The Four Quarters (2010) suffers not one jot in juxtaposition with late Beethoven is strong testimony to its stature. Again  the music talks of night and day: the four movement titles are “Nightfalls”; “Morning Dew”; “Days”; “The Twenty-fifth Hour”. But it is in that finale that the music frees itself form the constraints of time (it is cast in 25/16 - 25 semiquavers to the bar). From the glassy harmonics of “Nightfalls” to the seemingly random pizzicatos of “Morning Dew” (where the ear is naturally led to the descending pizzicato lines), to the powerful, shard-like chords of “Days" and its eventual resolution into quietude, to the utterly remarkable, elusive “The Twenty-fifth Hour,” is is astonishing music, here brilliantly performed. Although the Castalian Quartet's superb performance isn't available on YouTube, you can sample it at the Spotify links below and here, for comparison purposes, is a full video of the piece, here performed by the Doric Quartet:

Adès: The Four Quarters

Also in the absence of complete files for Op. 132, let's hear the Castalian Quartet in a complete performance of the second "Razumovsky" Quartet, Op. 59/2, live from the Wigmore Hall in 2018:

The sole audience member for a streamed concert, I enjoyed the Castalian Qtartet's performance of Adès' The Four Quartets at Manchester's Stoller Hall in March 2021 (review here) and I enjoy this disc just as much.

The disc concludes with another Simonen arrangement, Dowland's Come, heavy sleep: beautiful, timeless, perfectly judged.

Incredibly, this appears to be a debut complete disc recording for the Castalian String Quartet. They have such a bright future: they were formed in 2011 and won a raft of prizes for their work before fully launching onto the professional circuit. They previously joined forces with the Merel Quartet to record Mendelssohn's Octet on the Solo Musica label (released 2019). Here's the first movement of that Octet:

Between Two Worlds is a magnificent disc; beautifully recorded, still mroe beautifully played. It leaves an indelible impact.

Between Two Worlds (Castalian String Quartet, Delphian)
Mendelssohn (Merel & Castalian Quartets)